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Tamu, 32, died Thursday. (Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.)

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Tamu, the oldest giraffe in North America, died Thursday at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo — the third giraffe the zoo has lost this year.

The 32-year-old female reticulated giraffe, affectionately referred to as “Moose” or “Grandma,” “passed peacefully and naturally surrounded by keepers and vet staff who cared for her deeply,” a news release says. She would have turned 33 on Dec. 28.

“Although Tamu was considered geriatric, her decline happened extremely quickly and unexpectedly,” the release says. Staff began to notice changes in her behavior about 11 a.m., and she died about 1 p.m.

“She was the nicest giraffe on the planet,” Jason Bredahl, animal care manager, said in the release. “She would sit under the lettuce hut and eat lettuce all day long and made millions of people’s days. If you have a giraffe selfie on your phone, there’s a good chance it’s with Tamu. She was a guest favorite, for sure.”

The giraffe was easily recognizable because of her dark, bushy eyebrows.

“She was known for taking care of calves because she was so gentle,” said Amy Schilz, senior giraffe keeper, in the release. “I remember when we put up new shade structures in the yard and the calves hadn’t learned to use them as shelters when it rained. Tamu would go out into the rain to stand over the calves to protect them.”

Tamu gave birth to six calves and had 29 grandcalves, nine great-grandcalves and one great-great-grandcalf. She came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in April 2003.

The giraffe’s death adds to what has been a tragic year for the Colorado Springs herd, which now numbers 15 giraffes.

Penny, the zoo’s much-anticipated 200th calf, was born June 4. But her legs splayed when she was 9 days old, starting a chain of health problems that led to her being euthanized at 8 weeks.

Uzuri, 17, died Aug. 31. The giraffe had suspected musculoskeletal issues throughout her life, the zoo said. After her back feet became unstable and she refused treats and medications, they decided to euthanize her.

Tamu provided “maternal comfort” to Penny when the calf was too fragile to be with her mom, the release says.

“Tamu had a huge heart and brought Penny a lot of comfort in Penny’s final days,” Schilz said in the release. “We all knew that when Penny’s mom was a little too rough for Penny, that Tamu could step in and provide that giraffe-to-giraffe care.”

Wild giraffe populations have declined by an estimated 35 percent in the past 20 years, the release says. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation estimates that fewer than 15,785 reticulated giraffes remain in the wild.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has partnered with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to support conservation.More than $75,000 of Operation Twiga, a giraffe translocation project in Uganda, was funded through Quarters for Conservation, a program allocating 75 cents of every admission to conservation.

“She will be missed so much,” Schilz said of Tamu.

Ellie is a crime and breaking news reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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