Stretch the giraffe, a star attraction at Aloha Safari Rescue Zoo in Cameron, died Friday.
In a statement shared on the zoo’s Facebook page, proprietor Lee Crutchfield said Stretch “brought great happiness and fond memories to children and adult patrons as well as the staff and volunteers.” The 15-foot-tall giraffe died of “unforeseen natural causes,” Crutchfield wrote.
Located near the Harnett-Moore county line, the 65-acre zoo is home to more than 400 animals. Many of them are exotic creatures that were rescued from abusive or negligent owners.
Stretch previously lived in a small barn in Ohio. He arrived at the zoo about 11 years ago.
The reticulated giraffe was known to playfully snatch hats and sunglasses from the unsuspecting visitors who regularly feted him with carrots. He was twice featured on the television show “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” according to the zoo.
An online fundraiser was launched in January 2019 to help pay for repairs to Stretch’s enclosure, which was damaged during Hurricane Florence. The effort raised nearly $5,180, with several donors leaving affectionate comments about the giraffe.
“The outpouring of love and support that you have shown us with the passing of our beloved Stretch has been overwhelming,” the zoo wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday. “We know he is eating all of the carrots he wants now and he will forever be a part of Aloha.”
Reticulated giraffes are recognized as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The organization estimates that only 8,500 reticulated giraffes are left in the wild.