Dickerson Park Zoo’s giraffe saves lives through blood donation

Giving blood to help a complete stranger is one of the most inspirational things a human can do.

The Dickerson Park Zoo has another lifesaving blood donor — and he’s one you can really look up to.

Nine-year-old Grady is one of the donors in a nationwide giraffe blood bank. His blood plasma contains important components that can help save the lives of newborn giraffes in zoos across the country.

“They don’t get the antibodies they need from mom’s milk,” said Matt, Dickerson Park Zoo’s lead zookeeper. “This helps build their immune systems and there’s a higher chance that the babies will survive.”

While humans can’t donate blood until they’re at least 16, Grady has been saving lives since he was three years old. He can donate up to twice a month, and he’s always happy to stick his neck out for his fellow giraffes.

“He loves the attention he gets,” Matt said. “He loves the extra snacks.”

Grady is just one of the many animals Dickerson Park zookeepers have trained for voluntary blood draws. This allows veterinarians to get the data they need without having to sedate the animals for routine bloodwork, ensuring the animals receive the best care.

“What we’re looking for is overall organ health,” said Dr. Steph, a veterinarian at Dickerson Park Zoo. “Are their kidneys functioning? Are their livers functioning? How are their electrolyte values? We evaluate all those same things that your doctor does.”

The zoo’s elephants are also occasional blood donors. The zoo always keeps several units of plasma available in a special deep freezer, so they’re always ready to answer another zoo’s call for help.

“Let’s say they have a baby giraffe and they need plasma to help keep that baby alive,” Dr. Steph added. “We will ship our plasma over to that institution.”

Few zoos have the tools needed to make this possible, making the Dickerson Park Zoo truly unique.

“It’s another way that we can help save a species and save an animal,” Dr. Steph said.

The Community Blood Center of the Ozarks is also one-of-a-kind, as it’s the only organization that supplies blood to our local hospitals. When local patients need blood, it’s CBCO donors who come to the rescue.

“We both understand the importance of blood and blood donation,” said Michelle Teter, CBCO’s media relations representative. “So we wanted to work together and we came up with a fun idea called Be fabZOOlous. It’s encouraging local people to get out and donate and help local patients with their blood donation.”

Everyone who donates blood to the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks this August or September will receive two free tickets to the Dickerson Park Zoo, where they’ll have a chance to see some of their fellow lifesavers — and dozens of other animals.

“We’re really excited to be able to partner with the zoo to be able to reward our donors for their lifesaving gift,” Teter said.

Dickerson Park zookeepers might be experts in animal blood draws, but they also know the importance of humans giving blood. Many of them are routine blood donors — and advocates for an important cause.

“It’s a vital thing because it goes and saves lives,” said Jackson, the Dickerson Park Zoo’s head Tropical Asia keeper. “I know if I had a child or someone that had a problem, I know that we can count on the Community Blood Center of the Ozarks to help save a life.”

Visit www.cbco.org/zoo to learn more.