(UPDATED JULY 31)
We’re overwhelmed by the love you’ve shown today for our little Kipenzi, and to our grieving staff. Because you’ve asked a few specific questions, we wanted to answer them here for you.
1. Are you reviewing what happened? Yes. We are conducting a very thorough review of the incident down to the smallest detail, to examine every aspect and ensure that every opinion is heard. While some members of the media have used the word “investigation,” we believe this implies that we have to figure out what happened, or assign blame, and this is not the case. We were fully staffed and they witnessed every moment except the exact second she hit the wall, so we know what happened; no policies or procedures appear to be violated. However, what we WILL do now, with relentless focus, is examine the accident from every angle to look for ways to keep this from happening again. No one wants to prevent this more than our staff.
2. Will you change the habitat? At this time, we have no plans to do so. The habitat is a world-class design that sets a standard that zoos around the world have followed. Kip was in the smaller area of the Giants of the Savanna because it was safer for her than the big space, where she could get up more speed and would have had to avoid more obstacles, including other animals. This was a tragic, heartbreaking accident, nothing more.
3. Then how was she injured? Calves of all species, from horses to cows to giraffes and gerenuks, love to run around wildly. (Like toddlers.) We can’t put bubble-wrap around them, as much as we’d like to. Yesterday when the Zoo closed, the adult giraffes shifted toward the barn, but Kip and big brother Kopano wanted to play more. They chased each other through the habitat and ran in big loops around it. They got to the end of the habitat and Kopano turned the right way, but Kip instead made a sharp turn into the wall. She was a calf; she played like a calf. This type of thing can happen with any hoofstock, cows and horses included – and in the wild, where giraffes will stumble into depressions, fall, and calves run into trees or even another giraffe.
4. How could that hurt her so badly? A necropsy by our veterinary team this morning confirmed that Kip died from a broken neck – again, unfortunately, not an uncommon injury in giraffes, simply because of the long, slender way their necks are built.
5. Should she have been allowed to run, and was the habitat too small? We were very cautious about allowing Kip (and Kopano and Jamie before her) to grow into the larger yards slowly. Yesterday was no different than any other day since May 1, when Kipenzi first went out. She had been exploring and running in that yard for three months, and that’s essential to her growth and development. We couldn’t pen her up in a small area, despite the risk that she might fall or run into something. However, she was in the feeding yard because it was overall a safer place for her – the large Savanna would have been much riskier. So she was in her “baby gate” kind of place when this unfortunate, freak accident occurred.
6. How are the keepers? Our whole staff, especially our giraffe team, is devastated. We all deeply loved Kipenzi, as you did, and are grieving. However, our team is dedicated, devoted and strong, and we have other animals to care for through our tears. Everyone came to work Wednesday, and even some who were off came in to be here with their colleagues. We brought in counselors to help staffers, too. We have received many condolence gifts, from food to flowers and beautiful artwork, and we appreciate that more than you know.
7. How is Katie, Kip’s mom? Katie is eating normally and is finding comfort from her best giraffe friends, Auggie and Jade. She remains in the barn with a private yard while keepers monitor her closely to be sure she continues to do well. She’ll go back into the large habitat when she indicates that she’s ready.
8. Is the rest of the herd mourning? They are acting normally. Giraffes, while social animals, aren’t as emotionally connected with each other as some other animals, like elephants, primates and whales. In the wild, they must constantly be on alert for predators, so they are hard-wired to move on quickly after the loss of a calf.
9. What happened at the Zoo the next day? Operations were completely normal, and the giraffe herd was out in both areas of the habitat. Nothing was different because this doesn’t seem to be a mistake or an error on anyone’s part. It was a terrible accident, and a not-uncommon one in hoofstock.
10. Will there be a memorial at the Zoo for Kipenzi? We are definitely considering how to best honor her memory. Because she was such a remarkable ambassador for her species and for conservation – helping to raise more than $35,000 for our partner in Africa, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation – we chose to first suggest donations to that group. (Donate here: www.giraffeconservation.org) We need time to figure out what other memorial we wish to set up, but we will keep you posted here.
11. Will you have more giraffe calves? We are part of the national Species Survival Plan for giraffes, and will continue to breed when recommended.
12. What is Kip’s legacy? Kipenzi was undoubtedly the most recognized giraffe in the world, and her birth live on Animal Planet captivated millions. From the anticipation of her arrival to her first moments standing and her introduction into the Savanna habitat, Kip continued to melt hearts and bring attention to her species, whose population in the wild has been reduced significantly in recent years. The supportive emails, tweets and Facebook posts we’ve received and responded to throughout Kip’s life could fill volumes – she truly was a household name, and people connected with her deeply.
When you voted for her name online, you were given an opportunity to donate to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Those donations raised $35,000 to help protect her “cousins” in Africa. Following her passing, Kip continues to bring awareness to her endangered species, and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation has been flooded with more donations in her honor to help the plight of giraffes. Kip’s gave the public a front-row seat into the delivery and care of giraffes, all while inspiring conversations about what we all can do to save them in the wild. We’ve heard from parents whose children were enthralled with seeing a live animal birth right from their living room, classrooms who started research projects on giraffes in the wild, and guests who flew across the country to see the giraffe who was an inspiration for all ages – the stories are incredible. We will always cherish the light Kip was to so many, and her role as an ambassador for conservation will not be forgotten.
13. Will you continue to update us? Yes, of course. We appreciate your support so much. And we operate from a position of transparency, because we’re proud of the work we do and how we provide for animals in our care. We will respond as much as we can, but please understand that given the enormous outpouring of love, it is difficult to respond individually. But know that we are reading every single comment, and that they are helping us get through this difficult time.