South Florida

Lightning strike kills two giraffes at Lion Country Safari, authorities say

Jioni was one of the two giraffes that were killed by lightning in early May at Lion Country Safari.
Jioni was one of the two giraffes that were killed by lightning in early May at Lion Country Safari. Lion Country Safari

Two giraffes were killed at Lion Country Safari in early May when they were struck by lightning, the South Florida attraction said Tuesday.

Lily, 10, and Jioni, 1, were found by animal keepers after a severe, fast-moving storm had rolled through the area, according to a statement. A medical examination showed lightning was the cause of their instantaneous deaths.

Lion Country Safari has been open since 1967 and is a drive-thru safari park in Loxahatchee in Palm Beach County. The attraction has over 900 animals on its 300-acre reserve.

The animal safari has wide-open spaces similar to a savannah. Giraffes are not normally confined to covered pastures or pens, the statement said.

Haley Passeser, a safari spokesperson, said the park has lightning detection systems that open animal shelter areas when storms are near, according to WPTV, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach.

“We always provide them shelter and access to wherever they feel comfortable,” Passeser said in a WPTV interview. “It’s their choice whether they would like to seek shelter, and unfortunately that day they just did not choose to.”

Ron Magill, Zoo Miami spokesman and animal expert, said that while it is rare that these types of incidents happen to animals, he has seen it in the wild. He said Zoo Miami had an animal die from a lightning strike more than 20 years ago, although it was not a giraffe.

He agreed with the keepers at Lion Country Safari that forcing an animal into cover can be more dangerous than the rare occurrence of lightning striking an animal. When locked up, it can bang around and injure itself.

While it may be rare, lightning has killed or injured a variety of animals over the years. From 2009 to 2010, animals like sheep, cows, elephants, antelope and giraffes were victims of lightning, according to a ScienceNews article.

It also mentions Sparky the bison who, in 2013, was struck by lightning but lived to tell the tale. These deaths and injuries are not always the work of direct strikes.

“Direct strikes such as what happened to Sparky can be dangerous, but .... many animals are killed by the deadly current that runs through the ground after lightning strikes nearby,” the article said.

In Florida, humans and animals are no stranger to lightning. Over the past 50 years, more than 2,000 lightning-related injuries have been recorded. In 2018, there were 20 lightning-related human fatalities in the state.

By Tuesday afternoon, the park’s Facebook post had more than 200 comments offering condolences about the giraffes.

“We continue to mourn our two incredibly lovely and charismatic giraffes; they will both be sorely missed,” the attraction posted on Facebook.

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