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Maryland Zoo remembers conservationist who died of West Nile Virus

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Posted at 9:39 PM, Aug 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-01 13:51:23-04

BALTIMORE — When you dedicate decades of your life to something, you must love it.

That's exactly how Dr. Mike Cranfield, a conservationist and animal caretaker, felt about the animals at the Maryland Zoo.

This week, Baltimore and its zoo lost him. He had an unreported case of the West Nile Virus.

Cranfield mentored hundreds over the years, including some who work at the zoo right now.

"When you see pictures of Dr. Cranfield, he was always smiling, and that wasn't just for the picture. He was always smiling," said Mike Evitts, spokesman for the Maryland Zoo.

Cranfield, as Evitts described to WMAR, loved to get into the wild to take care of animals. Dr. Mike, as he was known by some, was the head veterinarian at the zoo for decades, working to save the lives of mountain gorillas in Africa and researching malaria in penguins.

"The work Dr. Cranfield did here at the Maryland Zoo leapfrogged all over the world. He was taking Baltimore with him," Evitts added.

It would be another deadly disease that took his life. Just a few days ago, Cranfield died of West Nile Virus. It's tough to determine where exactly Dr. Cranfield got the disease, but it's believed he got it in North America - in the wild in Canada, as Evitts described it to WMAR.

Deadly cases of the disease are rare. When it is discovered, it prompts government action, like back in July, when some mosquitoes tested positive for it in Anne Arundel County. When that happened, officials announced they would spray a solution in affected areas.

READ MORE: What to know about West Nile Virus after mosquitoes positive in Anne Arundel

Symptoms, an infectious disease expert with the AA Co. Health Dept. said, arise in about 20 percent of people. They include fever, headache, nausea, and joint and muscle aches.

What Cranfield leaves behind back here at the zoo: a trove of memories.

"Even last year, as part of his 70th birthday party, we used a rouse involving care of our giraffes to get him here for a surprise party. But that's the person he was - he was always ready at a moment's notice to help out," Evitts said.

The zoo is creating a page on its website for folks who knew Cranfield to share memories.