The claim: Three giraffes at the same zoo died soon after being vaccinated against COVID-19, with the vaccine the likely cause.
The facts: None of the giraffes were vaccinated before they died.
Dallas Zoo's very tall animal department had a very bad October, with three giraffes dying in the space of a month. Insult has been added to injury, however, with anti-vaxxers seizing on the deaths and claiming the vaccine was responsible, or at least the most likely cause, putting blame on the zoo.
Memes have been spreading the implication by combining reports of the giraffes' deaths with stories the zoo would be vaccinating some animals.
"Sounds like vaccinating the animals made them sick and weak," one prominent conspiracy theorist wrote on Telegram.
The hugely popular DarkHorse podcast has driven the dissemination of COVID-19's origins and supposed risks of vaccines, as well as being a chief promoter of ivermectin's use against the virus. In episode 103, the co-hosts mock the idea the cause of the animals' deaths could be anything other than the vaccine.
When the fact the giraffes had not been vaccinated was pointed out, instead of admitting their mistake, the hosts' responded in the next episode by attacking fact-checkers.
“Most people who are doing the fact-checking don't know what science is, so should not be in the position of deciding what is and is not true,” co-host Heather Heying said, despite explicit statements by the zoo.
Dallas Zoo is in fact still waiting to receive vaccines for its animals. When they arrive, first in line will be those known to be susceptible to COVID-19. This doesn't include giraffes, partly because their heads are above most expelled viral particles, but mostly because they and their nearest relatives appear to be immune. “There have not been any documented cases in hoofstock species,” Dallas Zoo told Associated Press.
Moreover, the first death involved a 3-month-old calf named Marekani being euthanized after a collision with an adult giraffe caused permanent knee damage. Even among the extensive list of things anti-vaccination campaigners blame on injections, knee injuries have yet to be mentioned.
The other two giraffes both had malfunctioning livers, but the zoo has not yet established if there was a common underlying cause. When 19-year-old Auggie died, the zoo attributed it to “age-related health issues that led to liver failure,” on its Facebook page. However, Jesse, the last giraffe to die, was only 14, and preliminary blood tests “showed abnormal liver enzymes.” Rather than jumping to conclusions, the zoo is investigating many possible explanations. “Currently, while we suspect the two deaths may be connected, we are still working towards definitive proof,” it said.
Although many things might cause liver failure, a vaccine neither giraffe had received is not one of them.
When Dallas and other zoos do vaccinate their animals, they won't be using Pfizer's or AstraZeneca's version, instead getting a product from Zoetis, which makes medications specifically for non-human animals.
While no giraffes have been killed by vaccines, three snow leopards recently died from complications apparently caused by having been infected by the disease itself, taking the vulnerable species one step closer to extinction.