Lehigh Valley

Two zoos mourn the loss of Ernie the giraffe

6-year-old giraffe died Sunday at LV Zoo

N. WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - A year-long campaign at the Lehigh Valley Zoo has ended with heartbreak following the death of a 6-year-old giraffe.

Ernie, a Masai giraffe, was delivered to the zoo Friday, where he was reunited with his father, Murphy.

According to a statement from the zoo, Murphy was excited to see Ernie again, but for unknown reasons, Ernie became aggressive toward his father. The zoo said it took steps to separate the two and had a plan to re-unite them.

Zoo officials said Ernie was aggressive toward Murphy again on Saturday and at some point Saturday sustained neck injury that ultimately led to his death Sunday. It's not clear if the injury happened while he was alone or with his father.

Ernie and Murphy were the product of a community-wide campaign and were brought in from the Kansas City Zoo.

"It's a tragedy. Nobody is happy about it, I know they are feeling horrible, our staff is feeling horrible about it," said Sean Putney, senior director of living collections at the Kansas City Zoo.

Murphy and Ernie lived together at the Kansas City Zoo.

"Ernie was special, he was born here, the keepers staff watched him grow, that makes it tougher on the staff," Putney said.

According to Putney, Murphy and Ernie lived alone together at the zoo, and never showed any signs of any issue between them.

"As giraffes grow and get older, there is some pushing around, that is fairly normal, nothing we would have considered to be dangerous," Putney said.

Putney also said both giraffe's were healthy when they left, and the zoo was notified they arrived safely in Pennsylvania.

"You never know how an animal is going to react, they're in a new setting," he said.

Putney said giraffes, by nature, are herders, which means typically they are not alone.

"I'm assuming they'll be asking the species survival plan to look at bringing in another animal or two to go with him," Putney said. "In the meantime, if there was animal that would do okay by himself, it would be Murphy."

In a statement to its visitors, the Lehigh Valley Zoo said, "Murphy is healthy and cannot wait to meet all of you, as he will need a great deal of love and attention as he mourns the loss of his son."

Putney said he believes Murphy will take the loss OK.

"I think the people around are probably mourning much more than Murphy is, yes," he said.

A memorial has been put up for Ernie outside the zoo.

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