updated 04/02/2013 AT 11:00 AM ET
•originally published 03/26/2013 AT 1:30 PM ET
What’s in a name?
Great significance for the rare baby Rothschild giraffe that was born to the Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Connecticut last month.
After a public appeal that elicited nearly 7,000 entries, the center has chosen Sandy Hope, a reference to the December shooting that occurred at Newtown, Conn., elementary school Sandy Hook.
“It’s a really, really meaningful name and that’s why we had to attach the middle name ‘Hope’ with it,” Marcella Leone, the center s founder and director, told Today on Monday.
In addition, the center will allow those affected by the tragedy to meet Sandy Hope in person.
“We’re devoting this year to the children and families that were directly impacted,” Leone said. “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.”
Only a few weeks old, Sandy Hope already stands over 6 feet tall, and will eventually grow to be about 18 feet tall as an adult. The Rothschild giraffe is a rare endangered subspecies, with only about 670 left in the world.
“We have been overwhelmed with real positive response, and the eye on the big picture is conservation,” Leone said.