On June 4th, 2018, the 200th giraffe calf was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. People around the world celebrated the birth which was live-streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Penny became an instant celebrity.
Thanks to technology, the world had a front-row view of Penny's first days. Her attempts at standing, interactions with her mom, and meeting other female members of the herd were all posted on Facebook. It was fascinating and heartwarming to see the bonding.
Sadly, nine days after her birth, Penny was found splayed in her pen. She had fallen in an unnatural position, and it was not immediately clear the extent of her injuries.
Penny's medical team soon discovered that she had a torn muscle in her right rear leg. The injury made it difficult for her to walk as well as lay down. The zoo staff immediately set to work to help her recover and heal.
Since Penny initially could not lay down, her team created resting structures that allowed her to rest while standing. She was bottle-fed because she was unable to suckle her mother's milk. You can watch a video clip of that here.
Due to her rear leg injury, Penny was placing more weight on her front legs which became problematic, so she required leg casts. The zoo staff worked tirelessly around the clock to rehabilitate her.
The public closely followed Penny's progress on her Facebook page which the zoo updated regularly.
Thousands of fans were rooting and praying for Penny's recovery.
A Beatles fan was born
When Penny was ten days old, just one day after her fall, the zoo gave the newest giraffe calf a name. This was unusual as typically calves are not named until they are one month old, but an exception was made for the calf that had captured the world’s attention.
Before her birth, the public was asked to submit name suggestions. According to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo news archives, the suggestions were narrowed down to two choices — Mia or Penny. The staff played “Mama Mia” by Abba and the Beatles song, “Penny Lane”, to the injured calf, and her ears perked up to the Beatles song. She had chosen her name!
Bob Chastain, President & CEO of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, mentions in this Facebook video that Penny was named after Spencer and Julie Penrose, the zoo founders.
Whether she picked her name or was given her name, Penny suited her.
The grief felt around the world
Despite extraordinary efforts by her medical team, Penny’s injuries from the fall were traumatic. She had a dislocated hip joint, infection in her leg bones, and other medical conditions that would have negatively impacted her long-term quality of life.
On July 30th, 2018, a difficult decision was made to euthanize Penny. Her care team posted this heartbreaking video shortly after.
Following Penny’s death, the giraffe enclosure at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, one of the most popular exhibits, was closed for two days to allow staff members time to grieve.
The outpouring of love and support from the public was heartwarming. People from around the world sent sympathy cards, flowers, stuffed animals, and donations. Local community members dropped off baked goods, and children delivered hand-drawn pictures. Everyone was mourning Penny's loss, and people wanted to show their love, gratitude, and appreciation to Penny's hardworking medical team.
On June 20, 2020, a memorial bronze sculpture of Penny was unveiled at the zoo. A beautiful reminder of a special giraffe calf that stole the hearts of thousands.
Although we miss Penny, her legacy lives on. In less than two months, Penny did what few have done - united a world. There is kindness all around us, even in the darkest times.