Two Giraffes Die in Freakish Southern Florida Lightning Storm

By Richard Szabo

A drive-through safari park in southern Florida is mourning the sudden death of two giraffes that were struck by lightning on May 3.

Lion Country Safari staff confirmed long-necked Lily, 10, and Jioni, 1, passed away after a severe thunderstorm developed in the first week of May at the wildlife park in Loxahatchee, 80 miles north of downtown Miami.

“We are deeply saddened to share the passing of two of our giraffe due to a lightning strike,” the wildlife park said on Facebook. “We continue to mourn our two incredibly lovely and charismatic giraffe; they will both be sorely missed.”

Park staff confirmed Lily and Jioni were in the pasture, which was their usual habitat. The 20 giraffes had access to shelter at the time of the storm.

“The giraffe do have access to numerous shelters in the multi-acre habitat, if they choose to use them,” Lion Country Safari said.

The park maintains there was no way staff could force any of the giraffes to use the shelters during the severe storm.

Staff sent their bodies to a laboratory for testing, which confirmed the cause of death was indeed a lightning strike.

“The manner of their passing was instantaneous,” the wildlife park said. “The keepers and our whole team were understandably devastated by this sudden and tragic loss; out of respect for their mourning and the pending pathology results we waited to share this information.”

The wildlife park revealed Lily measured between 14 feet and 16 feet tall while Jioni was between 10 feet and 12 feet. They were not related to each other.

The odds of the tragedy happening were a “billion-to-one.”

“It’s like a billion-to-one chance this happened to us and our poor giraffes, but we are looking at anything we can to improve upon [safeguards for the animals,]” Lion Country Safari Spokesperson Haley Passeser said in a statement obtained by NBC News.

No wildlife park staff witnessed the deadly lighting strike, Passeser said. It is unclear whether the giraffes were killed by two separate lightning bolts or just one, even though their bodies were found close to each other.

“We love our animals more than words can say and are devastated,” the wildlife park commented on Facebook. “We are all grieving over this loss.”

Giraffes normally live between 20 and 25 years in the wild. Animal rights activists claim the massive mammals have much shorter lifespans in captivity, she said.

Members of the press suggested one piece of safety equipment that could become an attraction on its own.

“My proposal to solve this problem is simple, spiked pith helmets for giraffes,” WSYX ABC 6 ‏Assignment Editor Nick Bona joked on Twitter. “The spike acts as a lightning rod, hopefully sparing further giraffe deaths, who wouldn’t want to see a giraffe in a hat?”