Giraffe lives on among the students
Antwerp Zoo donates skeleton of deceased giraffe Dana to the University of Antwerp.
Fifteen months after her death, Dana the giraffe is starting a second life at the University of Antwerp. Antwerp Zoo is lending the skeleton to the university: ‘Dana will be a source of information for future veterinarians, biologists and other professionals’.
The old lady of the giraffes at Antwerp Zoo, Dana died in August 2017. She had reached the age of 20. After her death, the zoo contacted the University of Antwerp. ‘Since its founding, Antwerp Zoo has focused on three major pillars: nature, science and education’, explains Linda Van Elsacker, the zoological director of the KMDA (Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp). ‘For example, on our online platform ZooScience.be, we provide information on the scientific aspects of the zoo’.
‘During its lifetime, a special animal like a giraffe is obviously part of many lovely stories. When it dies, although it is a difficult time for the zookeepers and other people involved, a new chapter opens in the scientific world. Our veterinarians maintain contact with museums, scientific institutes and universities. In the case of Dana’s skeleton, we decided on Antwerp’s university, because we have collaborated quite intensely on numerous research projects over the years. ‘Dana will be a source of information for future veterinarians and other professionals’.
Just like a dog
‘When the zoo contacted us, we immediately responded with a great deal of enthusiasm’, notes Prof Chris Van Ginneken, who is affiliated with the University of Antwerp’s Department of Veterinary Sciences. ‘We first performed a dissection on the cadaver, and then we prepared the skeleton. Dana will be stood in a nice spot in the large entry hall of one of our buildings on Campus Drie Eiken. But the skeleton is not just for display. It will also be used actively by students of veterinary medicine and biology’.
Although the choice of an animal that is not very common – at least not in Belgium – may seem somewhat odd, Van Ginneken does not consider it strange at all. ‘In our programmes, we place a great deal of emphasis on comparative research. For example, the long neck of a giraffe has seven cervical vertebrae, just like a cow and a dog, but it is much more flexible’.
Dana’s skeleton has been assembled so that certain parts of it – like the skull, the neck and the front and hind legs – can be removed easily. Students will be able to make precise comparisons of these parts with those of other animals in the lab. The University of Antwerp will also use the giraffe’s skeleton for scientific research. Van Ginneken continues, ‘To this end, we collaborated with the Department of Biology to scan all of the larger and smaller bones before we did anything else. This material will be especially valuable to us for conducting research on the link between the shape of a body part and the function it serves’.
Read more on ZooScience.be (in Dutch)