- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Ryma was too young to die. So perhaps he deserves this obituary.
He was just a couple of years past middle age for a giraffe, so veterinarians are trying to find the cause of his death Saturday in the National Zoo, where he was born 17 years ago.
Doctors looking for the cause of death in humans call the activity an "autopsy." For animals, veterinarians conduct a "necropsy," which in Ryma's case given his size could take weeks.
Ryma was a typical male giraffe, more than 17 feet from his cloven hoofs to the tips of his hide-covered, blunt horns. He weighed about 2,600 pounds. His legs were almost 6 feet long and his 21-inch tongue would have enabled him to pick fruit, seeds and other food out of trees in Africa where his ancestors lived.
Ryma had been ailing for more than a year with something like arthritis. Veterinarians will be examining his hoofs, like cattle hoofs, which had also been causing him great discomfort.
Giraffes typically sleep while standing up. If they do lie down to sleep, they hold their necks erect, or lay their heads on a low tree branch, a zoo rack or their own hip flanks.
On Saturday morning, however, Ryma was lying or sitting but unable to get up.
Veterinarians were called, and they administered medicines to ease his pain and inflamation.
Ryma got weaker and weaker during the next six hours. And then he died, 11 years short of the 28 years when most Masai giraffes die of old age.
Survivors at National Zoo include female giraffe Griff, 19, mother of six, and Ryma's daughter, Jana, meaning "large child" or "fine child." Jana was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed between 125 and 150 pounds at birth on Jan. 18, 2001.
Although Ryma was born in the National Zoo in 1985, he had been farmed out to other zoos when he matured. He was brought home about three years ago when Griff needed an unrelated male to father her babies.
Zoos are typically cramped quarters for the tallest species of animals, and although he never got the chance, Ryma likely could have run 35 mph if let loose on an open prairie.
His quilt-patterned, fur hide of light brown and tawny colors would have camouflaged him from view in a forest, jungle or grove of trees.
Like all giraffes, Ryma had to spread his front legs far apart to get his muzzle down to a water hole or feed on the ground.
And, like cows, he would swallow grass, leaves and hay without much chewing. That food would be regurgitated later and Ryma would chew it up well called chewing his cud before swallowing it for the last time.


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