In April, millions watched live on streaming video as a tiny giraffe —at least tiny by giraffe standards — emerged slowly from her mother’s womb and plopped, brand new and exhausted, onto the soft ground to breathe life for the first time, curled up in a ball. They watched later as the calf, who would be named Kipenzi,  made her public debut at the Dallas Zoo, taking her first tentative steps. And as Kipenzi matured, they watched her joyously romping in her pen, running circles around her mother.

The life and times of Kipenzi gathered a huge fan club on the Internet over the months that followed. But that life was to be painfully brief.

With great sorrow the Dallas Zoo announced Kipenzi’s death Tuesday evening. “Keepers were shifting the giraffe herd into their night barn just after 5:30 p.m.,” said a statement from the zoo, “when the gangly calf began to scamper about the feeding yard, as she has done since her public debut on May 1. She made a sharp turn and ran into the perimeter edge of the habitat. Preliminary results indicate three broken vertebrae in her neck, and that she died immediately.”

Harrison Edell, the zoo’s senior director of living conditions, explained that “running is a typical behavior of giraffes of all ages, especially young ones like Kipenzi …. It’s heartbreaking that this happened where it did despite our precautions.”

Followers of Kipenzi on Twitter and Facebook were indeed devastated. “Oh my heart is breaking,” wrote Christina Stone. “I watched this little one come into this world and enjoyed hearing and seeing updates. You will be truly missed by so many who knew you even though never met you.”

Kipenzi’s mother, Katie, had one last visit “before veterinarians and keepers removed her,” the zoo said.