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Columbus Zoo announces the death of Colo, world's oldest Zoo Gorilla

published 17 January 2017 | modified 18 January 2017

Colo, world's oldest gorilla at Columbus ZooColo, the first gorilla born in a zoo and the matriarch of the Columbus Zoo’s famous gorilla family died in her sleep overnight. Last December, on the 22th to be exact, Colo celebrated her historic 60th birthday. She was the oldest gorilla on record and exceeded her normal life expectancy by more than two decades.

“At the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium our mantra is to touch the heart to teach the mind,” said Tom Stalf, president and CEO.

Colo touched the hearts of generations of people who came to see her and those that cared for her over her long lifetime. She was an ambassador for gorillas and inspired people to learn more about the critically endangered species and motivated them to protect gorillas in their native habitat.
(Tom Stalf, president and CEO of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium)

Colo’s birth at the Columbus Zoo on 22 December 1956 made headlines around the world. She was the first zoo-born gorilla in an era when little was known about conserving the western lowland gorilla.

Colo’s first keeper, a second-year veterinary student named Warren Thomas, was credited for both Colo’s birth and her survival. He defied orders from then-Zoo Director Earl Davis to keep Colo’s parents, Baron Macombo and Millie Christina, apart. Despite Director Davis’ concerns that his prized gorillas would hurt each other if kept together, Thomas allowed them to spend time together, which resulted in the birth of Colo. Thomas also found Colo, still in her amniotic sac, shortly after birth and provided mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive the lifeless baby. Thomas had a long zoo career including 16 years as the director of the Los Angeles Zoo.

Colo’s gorilla and animal care family spent time with her body this morning. Colo will be cremated and her ashes buried at an undisclosed location at the Columbus Zoo. Prior to cremation, the Zoo will conduct a complete postmortem examination to further define the cause of death. A malignant tumor was removed from under her arm on Dec. 3, 2016. At that time surgeons felt they obtained clean, wide margins when they removed the mass and until a necropsy (animal autopsy) is performed it is unknown if the cancer contributed to her death. Blood and tissue samples will also be collected to benefit the world zoo community’s efforts to learn more about this endangered species. Results of the necropsy are expected in approximately four weeks.

More details on Colo’s history, including her recent surgery to remove the growing mass under her arm, are available here.


(Source: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium press release, 17.01.2017)


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"Tiger map" (CC BY 2.5) by Sanderson et al., 2006.


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