They immediately phoned veterinarian Neil Parsons and his father, Ian, in Zambia, who had years of experience working on big game animals. On January 5, the pair had made the long, dusty 800-kilometer drive to the DRC, where they teamed up with gamekeepers to make a daring rescue. Ian Parsons filmed the work as Neil rushed to the male giraffe's aid.
National Geographic caught up with Neil Parsons to ask how he safely took down the world's tallest mammal.
Do you have any idea how the giraffe got caught?
It’s really strange. There’s a lot of game fencing, so we think it might have gotten caught in a fence. Or it could have been some sort of snare. But we aren’t actually sure how it got the wire around its neck. (Read how Africa may have a new giraffe species.)
We couldn’t go out immediately, but since the wire wasn’t cutting into the skin, it gave us some time.
What were some of the dangers of just leaving the wire where it was?
There were a lot of things that could have happened. We were most worried that the wire might get caught in a tree and the giraffe could basically hang itself.
Is tranquilizing and capturing a giraffe dangerous?
It is for them. We dope them with a powerful opioid and because they run—they never fall down by themselves, unfortunately—you have to try to slow them down almost to a dead stop with the ropes and then you try and trip them up and they generally go down okay. If you trip them up too fast, it can actually be quite dangerous. Mortality can be high. (See 14 incredible pictures of giraffes.)
The giraffes are about a ton and a half, but the guys are generally quite good. We’ve never really had injuries more serious than a few black eyes.
We were lucky that we spotted the giraffe in an open area where he was easy to get to. Normally, they prefer wooded areas, which makes it much harder.
What was the most challenging part of the rescue?
My dad and I are from Zambia, but the rescue team is in the Congo. They are all French-speaking, but we don’t speak French, and it was hard to communicate. The effort needed a lot of coordination, so we used sign language and gestures. The team really knew what they were doing.
In the video, you gave the giraffe several injections. What were you doing?
The first thing I did was give the giraffe an antidote to the opioid. We have to give it a lethal dose [of tranquilizer] because it’s the only way to slow it down enough, so I have to inject it with a medicine to counteract the opioid right away.
The next thing I gave the giraffe was an injection of antiparasitic medication to help treat anything it might have picked up. And then I gave him a vitamin injection to correct any nutrient deficiencies that may have affected its heart. Giraffes are actually prone to heart problems like cardiomyopathy. (Read: "Giraffes, Zebras Face Surprising Top Threat: Hunting.")
Do you know what happened to the giraffe after you released it?
We heard back from the team of Mikembo that the giraffe appeared to be doing well and in good health.
The interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.