Baby giraffe named to honor Newtown shooting victims 


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By Scott Stump

An adorable baby giraffe born in Connecticut last month has been given an inspiring name by the public, with special meaning for the endangered animal’s home state.

As revealed on TODAY Monday, the female Rothschild giraffe has been given the name "Sandy Hope" after the Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, Conn., appealed to the public and received nearly 7,000 entries on its website, according to Marcella Leone, the center’s founder and director. The giraffe’s name is in reference to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012, that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adult staff members.

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“(The name has) a real significance, especially for us here in Connecticut,’’ Leone told Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Monday. “We named her for the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy that happened right here in our state, so it's a really, really meaningful name and that’s why we had to attach the middle name ‘Hope’ with it.’’

The conservation center plans on opening its doors to those directly affected by the shooting so they can get a chance to see Sandy Hope in person.

“We’re built for animals, not people,’’ Leone explained. “But we do have special cause groups, and we’re devoting this year to the children and families that were directly impacted by the tragedy. So we’ll be inviting them to the center, and they’ll be able to enjoy meeting Sandy and a lot of the other animals that we have here.’’

The giraffe is already standing more than 6 feet tall in just over a week and will eventually be about 18 feet tall as an adult. Born to 6-year-old giraffe “Petal" on March 22, Sandy Hope is now part of a herd of five giraffes that are usually only found in Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

Sandy Hope is one of only about 670 Rothschild giraffes left in the world. The subspecies is named for Lord Walter Rothschild, a zoologist who studied the animals in the late 1800s.

“We’ve taken off the training wheels,’’ Leone said. “We have the baby out with some of the females so she can join the herd. We have been overwhelmed with real positive response, and the eye on the big picture is conservation.”