man being affectionately kissed by a giraffe
Jade Small
Jade Small
November 16, 2021 ·  3 min read

The Heartbreaking Moment a Dying Zoo Worker Received Final Kisses from Giraffes

A Premiere Daily Highlight Story: Sometimes there are tales that are just too good, too beautiful, or too miraculous to keep locked away. That’s why we scour the archives and bring some of them back to enjoy again. They may make you smile or shed a tear, but they’re always meant to add a little positivity to your day. Enjoy!

For 25 years of his life, 54-year-old Mario Ejis worked at the Rotterdam’s Diergaarde Blijdorp zoo in the Netherlands as maintenance staff, caring for some of the most amazing creatures in confinement. Mario, who also suffers from a mental disability had battled terminal cancer and was unable to go to work for some time. In 2014, having spent almost half of his life cleaning the animal cages and making friends with beasts of the wild, he had one request last to make – he wanted to see the zoo again.

Mario’s condition was greatly advanced and he was permanently confined to the bed, as the Independent reported [1]. He struggled deeply with speech and was finding it difficult to make coherent sentences. However, the longing on his face was all the words anyone would have needed to be convinced. A charity organization known as the Ambulance Wish Foundation came to his service. He was transported to the hospital in a specially designed ambulance so he could his friends again.

The giraffes sensed his pain

When Mario was taken to the giraffe section, something incredible happened.

It was a heartbreaking sight to watch as the giraffes moved close to the ambulance carrying Mario, sticking their heads one after the other through the window. They could sense that he was in a lot of pain and was suffering greatly. They nuzzled him, kissed and comforted him with sad expressions in their eyes. 

These animals recognized him, and felt that (things aren’t) going well with him,” said Kees Veldboer, the founder of the Ambulance Wish Foundation.

The experience had a great impact on Mario. “(It was) a very special moment. You saw him beaming,” said Veldboer. 

He had the opportunity to see the zoo that had been his home one last time. He also got a chance to say goodbye to his co-workers. 

Love from around the world

The Ambulance Wish foundation is a charity that transports terminally ill patients to a place of personal significance as their last wish. The charity originated in the Netherlands and has already been established in the UK, with over 1506 volunteers.

Mario’s story went viral on social media in 2014 when the foundation uploaded his story on their Facebook page. It was picked up by several media companies and shared on popular websites and Twitter. The story left a lot of people heartbroken and awed at the giraffes’ ability to sense Mario’s pain.

Even though the giraffes may not have been able to detect cancer in their friend’s body, they could certainly sense his pain and suffering. Many animals, in general, are amazing with many being able to express and feel emotions from not just their own, but humans as well.

Elephants, for example, exhibit behaviors like this when they mourn when losing someone close to them [3]. They stand around the body of the deceased animal for hours, caressing it with their trunks and looking deeply depressed.

Of course, there should always be a special mention to our ‘best friend,’ dogs are not only express emotion, but studies have even shown that they can detect cancer in patients.

Animals can be such amazing creatures. The story of Mario and his giraffe is truly one to remember. 

Keep Reading: Among Other Amazing Creatures, the Amazon Has Pink Dolphins


  1. Giraffe’s final goodbye: kisses for a dying zoo worker.” The Independent. Heather Saul. March 21, 2014.
  2. “Rare Video Shows Elephants ‘Mourning’ Matriarch’s Death.” National Geographic. Lara Parker. August 1, 2016.