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Dallas Zoo giraffe named for Jason Witten dies suddenly

Witten the giraffe calf was 1 year old.
The Dallas Zoo's newborn giraffe calf, named Witten. Photo: Dallas Zoo

DALLAS — Updated to reflect the amount of giraffe calfs at the Dallas Zoo and updated Tuesday with more information from the Dallas Zoo on Witten the giraffe's death. 

A one-year-old giraffe named for the Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten died suddenly Monday during a routine physical exam, Dallas Zoo officials said. 

"We are devastated to share that our one-year-old giraffe Witten passed away this morning," the Dallas Zoo tweeted. "He was receiving a routine physical exam under anesthesia when he suddenly stopped breathing. An urgent attempt was made to resuscitate him, without success.

"Our expert veterinary staff and giraffe zoologists have performed these physical exams many times in the past without incident, but for humans and animals alike, there is always a risk associated with anesthesia and some animals react differently.

"Witten captured all of our hearts with his outgoing, lovable personality and will be deeply missed. Hoofstock animals, like giraffe, are incredibly resilient and move on quickly, as they would in the wild. But we are keeping a close eye on our herd.

"As you can imagine, our zoologists are very close to the animals they care for and are heartbroken."

On Tuesday, Dallas Zoo officials said the physical exam was being conducted to prepare Witten for a move to another zoo in Canada, where he would have been sent to breed with other giraffes. 

The Dallas Zoo said they are conducting an internal investigation of Witten's death, and will perform a necropsy.

According to the Dallas Zoo, less than 97,000 giraffes remain in the wild worldwide.

Witten the giraffe was born April 18, 2018. He is survived by his father Tebogo, his mother Chrystal and three more giraffe calves born at the Dallas Zoo. Baby giraffe Kipenzi died after an accident in July 2015 where she broke three vertebrae in her back after running into the perimeter edge of the giraffe habitat, dying instantly, according to the zoo.

RELATED: The Dallas Zoo named its newborn giraffe 'Witten'

Witten was named by the zoo a day after his namesake announced his retirement from the NFL in May 2018. (Jason Witten would later come back to play for the cowboys in Feb. 2019.)

RELATED: Jason Witten came out of retirement to play for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019

“We’re shifting from our typical tradition of naming a baby after its native heritage to honor a Texas legend and all around great guy,” Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson said in a release in May 2018. “Our zookeepers were the first ones to jump on this naming opportunity. We’re all huge fans of Jason, he’s a real role model – on the field and in our community.”

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