Body Scoring System for Captive Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis)
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2001
Celeste C. Kearney, BS; Ray L. Ball, DVM
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Tampa, FL, USA


Peracute mortality syndrome of captive giraffe as previously defined1,2 may progress to a chronic wasting condition if certain conditions are met, the most notable condition being a lack of cold stress. At the present time there is no established method of evaluating muscling, fat, and overall body condition of giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). Such a scoring system in conjunction with serum chemistries, exocrine hormones, and body weights will allow for further investigation into peracute mortality syndrome/chronic wasting, a condition which we believe to be caused by an energy deficiency. The purpose of this project is to develop a standardized body scoring system that will assist zoologic staff in evaluating the condition of animals under their care. In some instances, it may be the only feasible means for objectively evaluating these animals if physical limitations prohibit routine blood collection and body weights.

This method will use body scores of 1–8, with 4–6 being the optimal range, while higher scores indicate an animal that is overweight and lower scores indicate an animal that is underweight (Table 1). In keeping with methods currently used to evaluate cattle, horses, and other domestic livestock, muscling and subcutaneous fat are evaluated first in the hindquarters, taking note of the prominence of the sacral vertebrae and the hipbones (ilium). Prominence of the backbone is noted as an indicator of back fat. The neck and chest can be used as secondary indicators of condition, with well-fleshed animals displaying thickness in the neck, especially at the base, and a flat chest. Easy palpation and even visible prominence of cervical vertebrae begin to appear in animals that are below desired weight. Less fleshed animals often show a hollow in the center of the chest.

Table 1. Body condition score descriptors





Emaciated. No fat can be palpated. Muscle wasting has occurred.



Cervical vertebrae clearly visible. Protruding spine. Distinct hollows cranial to hipbones. Crest of illium is visible. Thin legs. Hips appear sunken and shoulders are slim.

Poor condition. Cause for concern.


Hipbones prominent. Definite outline of spine. Sacral vertebrae prominent. First two cervical vertebrae visible.
Sunken chest.

Occasionally seen following a growth spurt in young adults.


Tailhead is noticeable and point of hipbone is visible. Outline of spine is visible. Hollow in center of chest.

Nicely muscled, but with little fat. Commonly seen in growing giraffe over 1.5 years.


Back and hips rise smoothly to topline with no visible outline or denting along backbone. Some palpable fat around tailhead. Point of hipbone just visible. Slight hollow in chest.

Good condition.


Back is level and wide. Hipbone not visible, but easily palpated. Smooth chest. Visible thickening in lower neck.

Good condition. Ideal for calves under 1.5 years.


Slight crease along backbone. Hipbones difficult to palpate. Smooth chest and thick neck.



Definite crease along backbone. Tailhead no longer clearly visible. Soft fat palpable along tailhead. Thick neck.



Due to differences in sex and conformation, some variation may occur between individual animals. Mature bulls tend to have thicker necks. Pregnancy in females will expand the abdomen, which may hide the prominence of the backbone and hipbones for a time. Examination of the hindquarters will provide a good indication of body condition during this period. Skin wrinkles do not appear to be a good indicator of condition, since wrinkles can often be found on prime and fleshy animals, as well as underweight animals.

Literature Cited

1.  Fowler ME. Peracute mortality in captive giraffe. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1978;173:1088–1093.

2.  Junge RE, Bradley TA. Peracute mortality syndrome of giraffes. In: Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine: Current Therapy 3. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Company; 1993:547–549.


Speaker Information
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Ray L. Ball, DVM
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
Tampa, FL, USA

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