'Heartbroken': Cheyenne Mountain Zoo makes difficult decision to euthanize giraffe calf

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - It's no secret little Penny, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's youngest giraffe, has had a difficult battle with various health problems almost since the moment of her birth nearly 2 months ago.

Photo courtesy: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Her journey ended sadly Monday with the zoo's announcement that they had come to the difficult decision to euthanize her.

The zoo said it was the most humane option for the young giraffe, who had endured so much pain in her short life.

"We will all miss Penny tremendously," said Bob Chastain, the CEO and president of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, in a statement Monday night. "Although our sadness at this time is palpable, we are taking solace in the fact that we truly believe we made the best decisions for her during her short life that we could. It's always easy, especially in times of grief, to second-guess every decision you made. I have found myself doing that already, and I have cautioned Penny's care team about this emotion."

Chastain addressed the media Tuesday to expand on why the zoo was forced to make the decision to put Penny down and how devastated all of her keepers were.

"To go from a giraffe that looked relatively stable to a giraffe where we're making a quality of life decision, it is the hardest decision I've ever had to make," Chastain said.

He said Penny had been cared for around the clock since she fell at 9 days old.

"There are people who wonder, 'Should giraffes be in human care?' Here's what we know for absolutely sure: In the wild, she would have very quickly passed away. She would have passed away sometimes because a lion would have found her, and she would have passed away sometimes because nobody would have found her. Penny was fortunate, in my opinion, to be in a case where she had the very best medical care all the way up until the time she passed, and she was around people who cared for her, and every decision we made was in her best interest."

The full interview with Chastain can be viewed below this article.

Many zoo-goers paid their respects by leaving notes, flowers and signs at the giraffe barn.

"I was sad, but I've got a lot of peace," said longtime zoo member Kelly DeBardelaben. "I trust and believe this staff that they have always looked out for the best for all of their animals. Not just Penny. Not just the giraffes, but every animal in this facility."

Chastain said though Penny's life was brief, her legacy would not be.

"We will certainly use Penny's case to help further giraffe medicine in the future and ensure that the things we have learned from her will live on to help others. And we hope those who have watched Penny's journey can take comfort in the fact that we made every decision with Penny’s best interests in mind, and we held nothing back from her fans. We were all in this together."

Penny is the zoo's 200th giraffe calf.