Zoo Miracle Cure: Spa Treatments

Treatments keeping Tiki on her feet

Howard Jones Connie Bolger 7.20.16 (2)
Connie Bolger

Tiki is much like your typical spa client. She enjoys massages and pedicures. Accupuncture helps her arthritis. The spa treatments seem to ease her stress and make it easier for her to get around in her old age.

Here's the catch: Tiki is a 1,500-pound giraffe, and her spa is at the Oakland Zoo.

Vets say at age 20, Tiki's arthritis is so severe that she shouldn't be able to walk anymore. Caretake Amy Phelps treats Tiki with a thorough spa regimen -- which may be the first giraffe spa in the nation.

While the services are similar to what you'd find at a 5-star hotel, the zoo enclosure does not have your typical spa motive. There are obstacles, for sure.

While we visited, Phelps was pelted three times by bird droppings. But she is quick to say that comes with the job.

Phelps is using everything from massage to pedicures to acupuncture to help keep Tiki on her feet.

Shes uses human acupuncture needles and, while it's hard to believe a little needle could help such a huge animal, x-rays prove the treatments are working.  A human would not be able to feel the needle, but Tiki somehow does. She shutters when the tiny needle goes in place. We'll call that "good pain."

Tiki also gets a regular pedicure, using a special nail file. And the massages would cause anyone of us to be a little jealous of the TLC action.

Phelps' efforts are being watched by experts around the country and the world as she breaks new ground helping an aging animal enjoy the end of life.

She says it's a lot of work, but Tiki is worth it.

"She's given her life to the Oakland Zoo. She's had five calves. She's a great mom, a great-great grandmother," Phelps said. "Her calves populate zoos all over this country, so this is sort of our way of paying her back."

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