May 22, 2023 - News

Giraffes gone from Audubon Zoo, but leaders say they'll be back eventually

Photo shows the side view of a giraffe's head with brown and white coloring on its face and neck.

Forrest was the longtime Rothchild's giraffe at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. He died in February. Photo: Courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

The giraffe habitat is vacant at Audubon Zoo in New Orleans after the death of Forrest during Mardi Gras. He was the last surviving member of the zoo's herd.

Why it matters: The zoo is one of the most popular attractions in the city and has had giraffes for more than 20 years.

  • In an otherwise busy facility, the overgrown enclosure stands out.

Driving the news: Forrest, the zoo's longtime giraffe resident, died in February.

  • He had a "decline in his quality of life with no hope of improvement," so animal care and veterinary staff euthanized him, Audubon said in a statement.
  • He was 23 years old, while the usual life expectancy of Rothchild's giraffes is in the upper teens.
  • He had been at the zoo since 2002.

Zoom out: Audubon had four male giraffes in its herd for years — Forrest, Jumo, Chui and Bucko.

  • Jumo died suddenly in 2017 after eight years at the zoo.
  • Chui died in 2021 at the age of 21.
  • Bucko died in 2022 at the age of 20.
Photo shows the entrance to the giraffe habitat at Audubon Zoo. A sign says "Twiga Terrace."
Giraffe sculptures welcome visitors at the entrance of the giraffe habitat at Audubon Zoo. Photo: Carlie Kollath Wells/Axios

Zoom in: Forrest's favorite foods were cucumbers, elm leaves and ligustrum.

  • He was known for being inquisitive and quick to pick up new training behaviors, said Joe Forys, curator of mammals at Audubon Zoo.

The big picture: Rothschild's giraffes are one of the most endangered types of giraffes, Audubon says, due to habitat loss and poaching.

  • They are native to Uganda and Kenya, where they usually live in open woodland areas, grasslands and savannas.
  • They have distinct coloring on their coat — orange-brown patches on top of a cream background.

Meanwhile, the zoo is actively involved with efforts to help giraffes.

  • It operates the Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center on the West Bank, which is home to a herd of 10 giraffes, including two babies that were born last year.
  • It wasn't immediately clear if any of those giraffes might move to the zoo.

What's next: A sign in the viewing area of the giraffe habitat says it is now a "zoo improvement zone."

  • "With the recent passing of our long-lived giraffe Forrest, we are taking thoughtful steps to improve this space for future animal residents."
  • Audubon spokeswoman Melissa Lee tells Axios the giraffe yard will be renovated this year, and staffers are working to determine which giraffes will be a good fit for Audubon.
Photo shows the Cool Zoo on a sunny day. The white alligator's head is pointed up and water dumps beneath it as children in bathing suits play.
Cool Zoo has reopened for the season at Audubon Zoo. Photo: Courtesy of Audubon Nature Institute

State of play: Audubon feels almost back to pre-pandemic times from a visitor perspective, which is nice change after the layoffs and closures related to COVID-19 and tropical weather.

  • Audubon Nature Institute in 2020 closed the insectarium and laid off 532 workers as the organization faced a $21 million loss.
  • Then, the zoo reopened in June 2020 with restrictions on visitors and limited food and interaction options.
  • Now, the train is running again. The food vendors are back. A new bird exhibit has opened, and Cool Zoo is welcoming guests for the season.
  • Two things we are eagerly awaiting at the zoo: Watoto Farm, which is where you pet sheep and goats, and the carousel, which was damaged in Hurricane Ida and is being repaired.
  • And of course we're excited for the aquarium and insectarium, which will reopen in a newly renovated facility on June 8.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios New Orleans.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More New Orleans stories

No stories could be found

New Orleanspostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios New Orleans.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more