Heart-breaking pictures have emerged of the moment a giraffe said goodbye to a terminally ill zoo worker, who had spent most of his adult life cleaning the animal's enclosures.
Maintenance worker Mario has terminal cancer and had asked to be taken into the giraffe enclosure at Rotterdam’s Diergaarde Blijdorp zoo.
The 54-year-old was wheeled into the enclosure on his hospital bed. Within minutes, the giraffes approached him and began to nuzzle and kiss him.
The Ambulance Wish Foundation, which transported Mario to the zoo, said Mario has little mobility and finds speaking very difficult. "However, his face spoke volumes", they said.
"These animals recognised him, and felt that (things aren’t) going well with him,’ Kees Veldboer, the founder of the AWF told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.
"(It was) a very special moment. You saw him beaming."
In pictures: Loyal animals
In pictures: Loyal animals
1/6 Loyal animals
When US Navy Seal Jon Tumilson died in Afghanistan, his dog Hawkeye spent his entire funeral lying next to the casket whimpering and refused to leave after the ceremony finished
2/6 Loyal animals
Todd Endris was surfing off the coast of California when a great white shark came out of no where, hitting him three times and mauling his leg. Incredibly, a pod of dolphins suddenly appeared on the scene, forcing the shark to back off before forming a protective ring around Mr Endris until he got to shore
3/6 Loyal animals
When the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11 2001, Roselle the guide dog kept her cool despite debris falling all around her - she led owner Michael Hingson down 78 floors to safety. Here she yawns during a awards ceremony.
4/6 Loyal animals
John Rendall and Anthony Bourke bought Christian the lion from Harrods in 1969. After spending years with the pair, they eventually released him into a Natural Reserve. A year later they went to visit him. They were told the lion would never remember them so it was a dangerous thing to do. The advice was wrong - he very much did remember them
5/6 Loyal animals
Bertie the owl was adopted by his owner Peter Middleton after he found the young animal abandoned on the ground. Three years later Bertie still lives with Mr Middleton. He hates outdoors and instead follows his owner around the house, even attempting to help make cups of tea (file image)
6/6 Loyal animals
Nasar, an Arabian horse that moved into his owner’s house to take shelter from the winter storms in Germany decided he likes the home more than the stables
Mario, who has a mental disability, was also given the chance to say goodbye to his colleagues at the zoo, where he has worked for almost 25 years.
The AWF relies on 200 volunteers to help make the last wishes of terminally ill patients come true by transporting them in specially designed ambulances.
Various studies have suggested animals can sense illness in humans, including diseases with no visible symptoms.
Marine, a labrador retriever, was successfully trained in 2011 to detect people suffering with bowel cancer. Sniffer dogs have also proved successful in identifying patients with lung cancer.
A 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found one cat could identify people who were dying of a terminal illness at a nursing home.
Oscar the cat appeared to ‘predict’ a patient's death by sitting next to their bed and keeping a vigil there until they died, which was usually a few hours later.
If he was forced out of the patient's room he would become distressed and would continue to meow outside the door, researchers noted.
Oscar presided over the death of 25 residents during his time at the home. His presence at the bedside of a patient became viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families.