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Dallas Zoo Grieving After Famous Giraffe Calf Dies In Accident

Dallas Zoo staffers and fans are mourning, after a 3-month-old giraffe died in a freak accident.

The giraffe, named Kipenzi, was frolicking around her habitat Tuesday when she turned the wrong way and ran into a wall. She broke her neck and died almost instantly.

Millions of people watched as Kipenzi’s birth was live-streamed on Animal Planet last spring.

Zoo staffers say her popularity actually makes the loss easier to bear.

The giraffe feeding area is buzzing with its usual excitement. Kids stretch to tempt these gentle giants with crunchy romaine lettuce. Once the giraffe is munching away, they try to sneak a quick pat on the nose.

The water misters on the ceiling make the giraffe feeding area a cool spot on a sweltering July day. The crowd of kids is chattering happily. A few of the adults look a little down.

“Things are kind of solemn out here today,” says Cecilia Carrington.

She’d planned a trip to the zoo to see Kipenzi, the baby giraffe the whole word was crazy about and was horrified to hear what happened Tuesday evening.

“I think it’s sad. It was just born in April,” Carrington says.

That’s a feeling many of Kipenzi’s fans share. Thousands of photos and comments have been posted on the zoo’s Facebook page. Zoo visitors have come with cookies, homemade signs and flowers. It’s not surprising considering millions of people watched online as Kipenzi was born on April 10. You can see her exploring her habitat for the first time in the video below.

Zoo spokesperson Laurie Holloway says it’s painful thinking back to that happy spring evening

“We’re devastated. We’re absolutely crushed. Kipenzi, and it’s really not melodramatic to say she touched the world in a way no other giraffe has,” she says.

Holloway says Kipenzi’s mother Katie spent time with the calf after she died and seems to be coping well. She’s eating and socializing. Katie is being kept out of public exhibit for a few days so keepers can watch her closely.

The zoo has brought in counselors to speak with employees. Holloway says the entire staff is mourning.

“We have been here every day with her, we’ve seen everything,” says Holloway. “We have watched every weight gain and every inch that she’s put on and, she was a special, special animal.”

Holloway says there is nothing about the giraffe habitat that contributed to this accident, and this kind of injury is not unheard of, it can even happen in the wild. She says there is no plan to re-design the enclosure and this habitat is held up internationally as a good example.

“There was nothing reckless whatsoever about this,” says Holloway. “You just have to look at it sometimes and say, we know not why.”

Which is a hard thing to swallow. Holloway says the steady stream of well-wishes and beautiful photographs from Kipenzi’s fans make it a little easier.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.