WEST ORANGE, NJ - Hodari, one of the giraffes at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, died during a medical procedure Wednesday afternoon. Hodari was one of four giraffes in the zoo's African Adventure area.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of Hodari. On behalf of Turtle Back's staff, we cannot express how great this loss is," Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. said. "The Giraffe Exhibit quickly became Turtle Back Zoo's most popular attraction, and it was because of Hodari. He was the giraffe that was most comfortable being fed by the public, so our visitors became acquainted with him the most," he added.

Hodari stood 18 feet tall and was 11 years old. Zoo staff noticed him exhibiting strange behavior a few weeks ago. During a visual inspection, Turtle Back's veterinarian Dr. Jon Bergmann noticed something was wrong with the teeth in the back of the giraffe's mouth. About three weeks ago, Hodari was put under anesthesia so the veterinarian and a dental specialist could get a better look at the problem. Hodari awoke from the first exam without any negative effects. However, when he was placed under anesthesia the second time in order for the procedure to be done, he experienced complications. The results of a necropsy to determine the actual cause of death will not be known for about a month.

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"We observed that Hodari was having difficulty eating and decided performing the procedure would prevent further complications from occurring in the future," Dr. Bergmann said. "We believed this would give Hodari a better quality of life, improve his overall health and allow him to continue to thrive at Turtle Back Zoo. We knew there were risks when putting an animal of Hodari's size under anesthesia, but we also knew repairing his teeth would be more beneficial for him," he added.

Hodari was one of four Masai giraffes who came to Turtle Back Zoo in December 2015 as part of the new three-acre Giraffe House in the African Adventure area. Hodari came from South Carolina; the other three giraffes came from Florida and San Diego. The exhibit also features animals found in the African savanna - eland, whistling ducks, ostrich and tortoises. The exhibit is the largest at Turtle Back Zoo and cost about $7 million to develop.