A dying man's wish to see the animals he loved and worked with one last time took an unexpected and touching turn, one that is melting hearts across the internet.
The former maintenance worker is known to many at the zoo as simply Mario. For about 25 years, he faithful cleaned the giraffe enclosure at the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands.
The mentally-disabled man had spent most of his adult life with his animal friends, but unfortunately he recently was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As the condition weakened him, Mario found himself unable to be near the animals he cared so much about.
Mario was fortunate enough to be granted a wish by the Ambulance Wish Foundation, described as a Make-A-Wish Foundation for all ages.
The agency gives terminally ill persons a chance to be driven to the location of their choice via ambulance. Individuals often elect to either see a favorite place one last time or a sight they've never seen before.
— 12News (@12News) March 21, 2014
In the case of Mario, when given this unique opportunity by the Ambulance Wish Foundation, there was only one place he wanted to go—to see his beloved giraffes one last time.
When Mario was rolled into the giraffe enclosure on a stretcher, it was likely enough to be able to see his four-legged friends. However, in a surprising twist, one of the giraffes approached him. The giraffe leaned in through the opening and greeted Mario with a "kiss".
It was almost as if the animal was trying to thank Mario for his years of dedicated work and say goodbye.
Kees Veldboer, the founder of the Ambulance Wish Foundation, spoke to Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad about the encounter, saying that the "giraffes recognized him" and he believed they knew that his health "wasn't going well".
Mario was described as "beaming" over the encounter, which is hardly surprising given how touched total strangers are by photographs of the special moment.
Images of the "goodbye kiss" have quickly gone viral, ensuring that Mario and the heart-warming farewell will be remembered for a very long time.
Animals are amazing. Giraffe kisses disabled man who took care of them for years. The caretaker is dying and... http://t.co/o1UGXxozxX
— Good News Talk Radio (@AngieAustinNews) March 21, 2014
— Nelly Carreno (@nellyNECN) March 22, 2014
Image via YouTube