CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. – A zookeeper at the Metro Richmond Zoo has been suspended after a video posted to the WTVR CBS 6 Facebook page sparked outrage. Kristal Oppert said she recorded a zoo staffer abusing a giraffe once the zoo had closed Saturday night. Her video appeared to show "Z-Boy" the giraffe being forced into his night quarters by a zoo worker using a PVC pipe to strike the animal.
Oppert was feeding the giraffes from an observation deck when she heard something alarming 100 feet away. That's when she picked up her cell phone and started recording.
"You could hear people saying she's hitting the giraffe, she's hitting the giraffe," Oppert said. "It looked to us like she was hitting the giraffe on the back, back of his leg and under his belly."
“When I first saw the video I was horrified because I thought she was beating the giraffe,” Metro Richmond Zoo Director Jim Andelin said.
The 15-seconds video prompted Metro Richmond Zoo officials to suspend the zookeeper in question, but the worker denied striking the animal.
"The zookeeper swears she did not hit the giraffe," said Andelin. "She was pleading, 'I know better. I do not hit the animals. I did not hit it.'"
Andelin requested the original recording from Oppert, which he had enlarged.
"You see the pole go like this, but you're looking at it direct on, so it looks and sounds like it's hitting the giraffe and yet it's hitting the fence and ground," Andelin explained.
The zoo director said that nudging the 2,500-pound giraffes with the bendable piping to get them moving is protocol, but that striking them is not.
"Even if that was what they were doing, tapping the ground, tapping the fence to do that kind of stuff, when there are people watching where it can be perceived as wrong, that's probably where they went wrong," Oppert said.
Oppert, who said she hoped the zoo she loves will see this incident as an opportunity to make some changes, later posted on the WTVR CBS 6 Facebook page that when she saw the enhanced video, she realized that the giraffe was not being hit.
"Thanks to Jim & Justin at the Richmond Metro Zoo taking to time to examine the video footage from my zoo trip," Oppert said. "Once the video is blown up and the quality clearer you can see that the giraffe is NOT being hit with the PVC pole. We will be life long Metro Zoo customers."
Officials said that at this time the zookeeper in question is not permitted to care for any giraffes. Andelin said that no decision will be made on her employment until an investigation is completed.