AboutZoos, Since 2008


World’s old­est zoo gorilla is doing well after phys­i­cal examination

pub­lished 04 Decem­ber 2016 | mod­i­fied 27 Decem­ber 2016

Colo world's oldest gorilla at Columbus ZooColo, the matri­arch of the Colum­bus Zoo gorilla troop and nearly 60 years of age, is the old­est gorilla on record and exceeded her nor­mal life expectancy by more than two decades. A grow­ing mass under her arm made her notice­ably uncom­fort­able in recent weeks. Colum­bus Zoo’s ani­mal care staff first observed the mass over the sum­mer. Zoo vet­eri­nar­i­ans con­sulted with human and ani­mal vets at that time, and it was deter­mined that the best approach was to observe the mass for any changes.

She needed our help, and we decided there was a greater risk if we did not exam­ine her, espe­cially if the biopsy finds that she has a treat­able condition
Dr. Randy Junge, Vice Pres­i­dent of Ani­mal Health, Colum­bus Zoo and Aquarium »

As ani­mal care is the first pri­or­ity at the Colum­bus Zoo and once they saw Colo became uncom­fort­able due to the mass under her arm it was decided that mea­sures had to be taken. She received a com­pre­hen­sive two-​hour med­ical exam­i­na­tion yes­ter­day morn­ing, 3 Decem­ber. Besides remov­ing the mass, as part of the pro­ce­dure vet­eri­nar­i­ans took fur­ther tis­sue sam­ples to deter­mine the cause.

Colo’s life at Colum­bus Zoo and Aquar­ium
Colo, born on 22 Decem­ber 1956 was the first ever gorilla in the world to be born in a zoo, so she made his­tory. Weigh­ing in at approx­i­mately 4 pounds, Colo, a west­ern low­land gorilla whose name is a com­bi­na­tion of Colum­bus and Ohio, is the off­spring of Mil­lie Christina and Baron Macombo, two goril­las cap­tured in French Cameroon, Africa, who were brought to the Colum­bus Zoo in Jan­u­ary 1951 (more infor­ma­tion on Colo’s geneal­ogy here). Colo was born in an era when lit­tle was known about tak­ing care of goril­las in gen­eral and new­borns in par­tic­u­lar. Even the neces­sity of con­serv­ing the west­ern low­land gorilla had not made it to the gen­eral pub­lic yet. Colo’s birth, how­ever, made head­lines around the world includ­ing the Today show, the New York Times, and Time and Life mag­a­zines. Read a vin­tage arti­cle here.

(Source: Colum­bus Zoo Media YouTube channel)

The zoo’s vet­eri­nar­i­ans decided the best course of action was to con­duct the biopsy so they could pro­vide Colo with any med­ical help she might need. Results of the tis­sue sam­ples are expected in two weeks.

The Zoo’s expe­ri­enced vet­eri­nary staff were assisted by a highly spe­cial­ized team includ­ing a car­di­ol­o­gist, an anaes­the­si­ol­o­gist and an ultra­sound tech­ni­cian from Ohio­Health, and a vet­eri­nary sur­geon from Med­Vet. Most zoo ani­mals require anaes­the­sia in order for vet­eri­nar­i­ans and other med­ical pro­fes­sion­als to per­form this type of diag­nos­tic evaluation.

Gorilla con­ser­va­tion sta­tus
There are approx­i­mately 350 goril­las in US zoos accred­ited by the Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquar­i­ums (AZA), and all of them, includ­ing the goril­las at the Colum­bus Zoo, are west­ern low­land goril­las (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). An esti­mated 150,000250,000 west­ern low­land goril­las, less than 3,800 east­ern low­land goril­las or Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), approx­i­mately 880 moun­tain goril­las (Gorilla beringei beringei), and less than 300 cross river goril­las (Gorilla gorilla diehli) remain in west­ern and cen­tral Africa. Both West­ern goril­las (Gorilla gorilla) as East­ern goril­las (Gorilla beringei) are clas­si­fied as Crit­i­cally Endan­gered by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species. This is due to loss and degra­da­tion of habi­tat, poach­ing, and sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to dis­eases such as Ebola that can dec­i­mate large num­bers of ani­mals in a short period of time. Fur­ther­more, cli­mate change is con­sid­ered a major threat to the goril­las in the wild, while civil unrest and armed con­flicts in the East­ern goril­las’ native region have com­pounded other threats.

Thanks in large part to the efforts with Colo, the Colum­bus Zoo has become a leader in breed­ing goril­las with more than 31 goril­las born since 1956. Their pro­gramme still is on the lead­ing edge of the effort to pre­serve the endan­gered west­ern low­land gorilla.

Colo will remain behind the scenes at the gorilla build­ing while she recu­per­ates. Please check the Colum­bus Zoo social media accounts for any updates.

Colo as an actor
As the old­est gorilla liv­ing in cap­tiv­ity Colo became an actor in the film ‘Past Their Prime’. This doc­u­men­tary takes a look at the world of geri­atric zoo ani­mal care at the Colum­bus Zoo and Aquar­ium, fea­tur­ing Colo on her 55th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion. Be it arthri­tis, heart dis­ease, or decay­ing den­tal health, ani­mals and humans have a lot in com­mon when faced with mor­tal­ity and age­ing. This doc­u­men­tary by Becca Fried­man was shot for her senior the­sis at UC Berkeley’s Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism. Watch the trailer:

(Source: Colum­bus Zoo and Aquar­ium press release, 03.12.2016; IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species; web­site Gorilla Geneal­ogy; Wikipedia)

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