Ecuador is well-known for its biodiversity and boasts many species of interesting plants and animals. However, there is one beloved animal that is not native to the country, and residents of Loja are mourning its recent death. A giraffe named “Chelito” was found dead near his pen in the Loja zoo, where he had been living since 2003. One of the region's most recognizable tourist attractions, Chelito was the only giraffe in Ecuador and was proud symbol for residents of all ages. See here for a tourism poster designed by Sur Ecuador [es].
The cause of death is still unknown pending the results of an autopsy, but many are speculating that he may have been poisoned. Others are blaming poor zookeeping and conditions within the zoo. Regardless of the cause, many Loja residents are sad and some local bloggers remember their experiences at the zoo.
Photo by Nelson Piedra and used with permission.
Angel Gualán has fond memories of the animal [es]:
Todos vamos extrañar su gran amabilidad para recibir a los turista que tenia este animal, hace algunos meses atrás fue mi ultima visita a su morada, era muy amigable siempre se acercaba para que le den un poco de alimento y dejarse acariciar tranquilamente.
We are all going to miss the animal's friendliness towards tourists, a few months ago during my last trip to see him, he was very friendly and he always came close so that others could feed him and easily pet him.
An ex-pat blogger at Dispatches from the Equator also saw the appeal of Chelito:
When I first came to Loja for my site visit in the beginning of September I was told I had to go to the local zoo and see the giraffe. The giraffe, Chelito, was like a celebrity in town, the only giraffe in Ecuador and perhaps the only animal non-native to Ecuador on display. I did go and see all the children and adults hanging around outside its fence feeding it grass and leaves, very content spending time with their favorite town animal. Here the zoo only costs about 25 cents so regular visits to see Chelito were very feasible for everyone.
Blame for the death cannot be placed until the results have returned, but Sur Ecuador [es] accepts some of the blame.
Es muy tarde para establecer culpables por su muerte, pero creo que todos tuvimos un grano de culpa, por no reclamar una compañera para su jaula, por no tomar mayores precauciones en su cuidado, por dar por sentado que estaba bien, por solo tenerlo como un ícono turístico para tomarnos fotos y realmente no realizar una campaña para su bienestar.
Following the animal's death, residents took to the streets of Loja calling on the local government to provide better care of the animals in the zoo. Voces Lojanas [es] writes about the diverse support from those who took part in the march:
Pancartas, globos anaranjados y amarillos, figuras de cartón, niños vestidos con disfraces de jirafa, camisetas con mensajes relacionados al motivo de la marcha recorrieron las pricnipales de la ciudad en una multitud que cubría fácilmente las cuatro cuadras. Los mensajes que se leían fueron: “Cuidemos el zoológico”, “Respeto a los animales”, “Salvemos el zoológico” y “Devuelvan a Chelito”.
Signs, yellow and orange balloons, cardboard cut-outs, children dressed in giraffe costumes, shirts with the march's message all walked through the principal city streets that easily took up four blocks. The messages were strong: “Let's Take Care of the Zoo,” “Respect the animals,” “Let's Save the Zoo,” and “Give Chelito Back.”
Even though a giraffe like Chelito seems out of place in a South American country, it was still a big part of life in Loja. Yet, Café de Chucho [es] who is also lamenting the loss wonders, “Why would a small town even want a giraffe?“