A high school student gave zookeepers a pick-me-up after they lost a giraffe last week.

Haley Estlund, a 16-year-old student at Papillion-La Vista South High School, painted a three-panel wooden plaque depicting Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium giraffe Sam and his youngest daughter, Penelope, who turns 1 later this month. The zoo euthanized 17-year-old Sam last week as his joint issues worsened.

“I know how much the animals mean to them,” Estlund said. “I just wanted to do something to ease (their mourning) in a way.”

Hoofstock keeper Kelly Goodyear said the crew was moved by Estlund’s artwork, which is now hanging in the office inside the giraffe building.


High schooler Haley Estlund poses with the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium's hoofstock crew. From left: Jack Hetherington, Kelly Goodyear, Josiah House, Estlund, Josh Shandera, Mike Benner and Ben Meendering.

“It was really touching,” she said. “We see these animals more than we see our own family and pets sometimes.”

Estlund shadowed the zoo’s giraffe crew on Mondays and Thursdays during fall as a member of the zoo's academy. She has made similar plaques for friends, and she thought it would be nice to lift the crew's spirits.

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Sam the giraffe was born at the Henry Doorly Zoo on July 23, 2001. He is survived by his mother, Daisy, 25; and daughter, Penelope, who was born last year. Both live at the Omaha zoo. Sam has several other surviving offspring.

For the keepers, Sam was more than just a friendly giraffe. He represented his species well. Goodyear said he might have interacted with more zoo visitors than any other large animal during his lifetime, and he helped spread a message of conservation.

“He was a really great symbol for conservation in our community,” she said. “Seeing her artwork as an expression of that hit home.”