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Victorian Zoo Staff Heartbroken After Beloved Giraffe Dies 'In Tragic Circumstances'

Zookeepers at Werribee Open Range Zoo are in shock after the death of a resident giraffe described as a "gentle giant".

Thembi, an 11-year-old giraffe who has lived at the zoo since 2009, was found by keepers on Thursday morning after passing away the night before, the zoo said in a statement on Friday.

Initial results from a necropsy (an autopsy for animals) suggest Thembi was startled, which disrupted his normal blood flow and most likely caused sudden heart failure.

Keepers believe the incident which startled the giraffe happened in the walkway between the giraffes' night and day dens, where Thembi was found.

“This is a terrible, unforeseen and unprecedented incident," Werribee Open Range Zoo director Glen Holland said.

"Keepers, the veterinary team and staff are all heartbroken at his passing. We are taking some small comfort in that it does not appear he suffered at length.”

It is believed the animal died quickly, without prolonged suffering.

Thembi was the zoo's oldest giraffe and the dominant male in the tower, standing tall at over five metres. In a profile of the much-loved giraffe from 2014, Zoos Victoria said he was big "even by giraffe standards".

Image: Zoos Victoria

Holland said the tower were doing well following the loss, and in due course a new dominate male will step forward to lead the giraffes.

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A favourite of visitors and zoo staff alike, Thembi's passing will be felt deeply, with tributes making their way into the Zoos Victoria Facebook page.

An independent peer review process will be conducted in coming months to accompany the necropsy the zoo said, and a full review of the incident will be made available to the public.