The Saga Of Stanley — The Malibu Giraffe Caught In An Actual And Online Inferno
As the Woolsey Fire burned through parts of Malibu over the weekend, a determined and vocal group formed online around a shared concern for animals housed at a popular vineyard on Mulholland Highway that was in the fire's path.
The menagerie at Malibu Wines — which includes horses, pigs, cows and the internet-famous Stanley the Giraffe — are attractions along the winery's Safari Tour (Stanley requires a special tour).
On Friday, information began to emerge about those animals being left on the winery's grounds, and it was unclear how — or whether — they were being kept safe during the fire.
Details about the situation — some true and some unsubstantiated — spread through Facebook groups and other social media, and soon, activists and celebrities publicly expressed concern that the animals were still on the premises.
Comedian/actress Whitney Cummings uploaded videos and images from the winery's grounds all weekend. In an Instagram post on Monday, she wrote that she'd "like a vet to confirm that not evacuating the animals was the right move...So far every vet has said they should have evacuated."
Meanwhile, the winery insisted throughout the weekend that their four-legged charges were safe, and that everything possible was being done to keep them healthy and secure.
"Our amazing animal care and facilities team began preparing for evacuations late last night and because of their efforts we have survived the fire. Our management team and animal trainers are onsite right now feeding, providing water, repairing enclosures, and caring for our animal family (including Stanley)," they wrote in an Instagram post on Saturday.
Commenters on the company's social media pages were less than understanding, though.
"Heartless [EXPLETIVE]! Leaving animals to be burned alive. You should just shut down now!" read a comment on one of Malibu Wine's posts. "Really hoping you'll go out of business soon! You should have been left behind@malibuwines" said another.
But what began as a lightning rod for activists was largely debunked on Monday, following several official visits to Malibu Wine's grounds, including from the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control.
Officers were sent to the scene, deputy director of South County Operations Allison Cardona told LAist. Those officers determined that the winery's animals — including Stanley — were safe and well.
"According to our officers, they appear to be fine," Cardona said.
The department is authorized to require owners to provide medical care or veterinary care for their animals, should officers determine that it's needed. But Cardona said no such recommendations were made in the case of Malibu Wines.
Malibu Wines also posted on their website a statement attributed to veterinarian Dr. Stephen Klause. The statement notes that Klause visited the site and examined the animals, and issued a similar report: all but two animals were completely unharmed. The two that suffered injuries were a llama with foot pad issues, and a horse who sustained wounds from a wire fence. Both were on the mend, and the remainder were "essentially normal, calm, and eating and drinking."
Klause's statement also notes that during the fire, the animals were placed in a "wide open central area that is contained with many fenced off pastures. This wide open area has no trees or brush, but consists of short grass, dirt, and a lake area. This barren enclosure has little to no 'fuel' to power a fire or facilitate the spread of one."
Directly addressing concerns that the animals were essentially left to die, Klause wrote that the vineyard's decision to keep them on the grounds in a closed off area was in fact the safest option.
Evacuating such a collection of exotic animals, he said, would "take weeks" and be "an extreme risk to some of the animals."
Rich Block, the chief executive officer of the Santa Barbara Zoo, agrees.
"It is a major mobilization to move a giraffe," he told LAist. In the case of a fast-moving fire, "you couldn't mobilize fast enough or safely enough to move the animals. If they didn't kill the animal trying to load it, it would be amazing."
The reason, he adds, is the combination of the size of the average giraffe and the temperament of the average giraffe.
"They are tall and skittish," he said. "You take a skittish animal, put them into a totally unfamiliar situation" — such as a trailer intended to move them to a new location — "and they panic."
Meanwhile, Cummings and other activists are now updating their social media to say that they are simply happy that all of the animals are safe and healthy. On Monday night, Cummings wrote on Instagram:
"Last update hopefully... The animals weren't okay, now they are. Super simple. The attention we raised help them get food and vet care when the roads were blocked and no food could get up. It worked. Let's move on..."
Her statement echoed sentiments expressed by animal lovers — and animals themselves — throughout Southern California.
"We are rooting for the giraffe," Block said. "Tell them our giraffes send their best."
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