Kipenzi, a 15-year-old giraffe who was a crowd favorite at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, has died.
Zoo officials announced Monday that Hogle’s animal care team humanely euthanized Kipenzi on Friday, after she showed signs of dysfunction in her gastrointestinal tract. Keepers noticed her appetite had severely decreased in early July, and she was not passing feces, officials said.
A necropsy, or animal autopsy, showed that Kipenzi was suffering from gastric ulcers in one of her four stomach chambers. There also were areas of bloating and redness in her intestine, which appeared to have shut down. Zoo pathologists are performing additional tests on tissue samples, including microscopic analysis.
Zookeepers said Kip, as she was known, had been suffering from a foot problem from an injury more than 10 years ago. The outside toe on her right rear foot was growing at an abnormal angle. Last year, the inside toe on that foot had become infected. The care team had been treating Kip’s foot aggressively, with antibiotics, flushing, bandages, laser treatments and stem cells.
The team had been able, because of Kip’s good nature, to do something that had never been done with an adult giraffe in North America: Insert and maintain a catheter in her neck vein. Keepers were able to inject antibiotics intravenously for more than a month.
Keepers do not know if the foot problem was related to her GI problems, but “antibiotics and pain meds can be hard on the GI tract,” said Erica Crook, the zoo’s associate veterinarian, in a statement released by the zoo.
As giraffes go, Crook said, the 1,700-pound Kip was a good patient.
"She actively and willingly participated in her medical care every step of the way," Crook said. “She allowed us to touch her, to look at her foot and to treat her. She did that because of her relationship with her keepers and through positive reinforcement."
Kip arrived at Hogle Zoo in 2005, a transfer from Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo. She lived in Hogle’s old giraffe barn until 2014, when she was moved to the African Savanna.
Melissa Farr, lead keeper of the African Savanna, said, “Kipenzi was the most special giraffe any of us have ever known. She taught many new keepers the ropes of giraffe care. … We’ve joked she’d rather hang out with people than other giraffes. When she had visitors, you could see ‘Princess Kip’ coming to greet her subjects.”
Kipenzi was a mother three times. Two of her children died young, said Erica Hansen, a spokeswoman for the zoo. “We don’t think she had great milk production,” Hansen said. Her third offspring was transferred to another zoo, as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.
Before her death, Hansen said, Kip was a “wonderful auntie” to Georgette, who was born in September at Hogle. She also helped look after Minka, a 2-year-old who arrived at Hogle from the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas two weeks ago and was still quarantined in the giraffe barn.
Holly Peterson, a keeper who cared for Kip for 14 years, said Kip was “a calm influence on the new giraffes, like Minka, and taught them it’s OK to trust us.”
Kip could also be a prankster. “She’d find ways to get our attention, like pick up our rakes,” Peterson said. “She figured out she’d get a treat if she gave them back.”
Zoo officials said Kipenzi, even after death, will help her threatened species. CT scans of her feet will help document normal giraffe anatomy, as well as how her disease progressed in her digits. Stem cells generated from her fat, or adipose tissue, will help other giraffes in need, keepers said.
“She was so much more than a giraffe,” Peterson said. “She was my friend, my co-worker and part of my family.”