SALT LAKE CITY — A 15-year-old giraffe at Utah's Hogle Zoo was humanely euthanized Friday after "extensive efforts" to save her life, officials announced Monday in a news release.
Zoo officials described Kipenzi as a "spunky" giraffe who was "known for her agreeable nature and love of treats and visitors." She had been at the zoo since she transferred from Illinois' Brookfield Zoo in 2005.
"She was so much more than a giraffe," Holly Peterson, the giraffe's caretaker of 14 years, said in the news release. "She was my friend, my co-worker and part of my family. She taught me so much and brought so many amazing people into my life. She was also a calm influence on new giraffes, like Minka, and taught them it's okay to trust us."
Kipenzi, called Kip for short, showed signs of gastrointestinal dysfunction and her appetite had severely decreased earlier this month, according to her keepers. The animal also didn't pass feces, keepers said.
Giraffes have four stomach chambers, and Kip's autopsy results showed she had gastric ulcers in one of her stomach chambers, causing bloating and redness in the intestine. Her intestine also appeared to have shut down, according to the news release.
Zoo officials tried many treatment options on the sick animal, including new medications and multiple procedures, but it soon became clear Kipenzi was not going to recover from the health issues she suffered from, the news release stated.
"Kip's GI problem was unforeseen," Dr. Erika Crook, associate veterinarian at the zoo, said in the release. "We'd been working with Kip daily trying to resolve her foot problem."
Kipenzi's health issues extended past her gastrointestinal problems; she'd also been struggling with her right rear foot because of a decade-old injury, according to zoo officials. The 1,700-pound animal's outside toe was growing at an abnormal angle, and last year the other inside toe was infected, the release stated.
Zoo staff aggressively treated the foot injury, and at one time even maintained a catheter in Kipenzi's neck to administer antibiotics for more than a month — something that had never been done before for an adult giraffe, according to zoo officials.
Crook said they won't know if the foot injury was related to the gastrointestinal issues that ultimately caused the animal's untimely death, but noted antibiotics and pain medication can take a toll on the gastrointestinal tract. She also noted the animal care team's ability to treat Kipenzi was due to her easygoing attitude. "She actively and willingly participated in her medical care every step of the way," Crook said in the release. "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."
In her death, Kipenzi will help her threatened species, according to the release. CT scans of her feet will help record normal giraffe anatomy as well as the disease she suffered in her toes. Stem cells will also be generated from her fat tissue to help other sick or injured giraffes, according to the release.
"Kipenzi was the most special giraffe any of us have ever known," Melissa Farr, lead keeper for the zoo's African Savanna, said in the news release. "She taught many new keepers the ropes of giraffe care, and continues to inspire awe in seasoned keepers with her amazing demeanor."