Colo, 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.
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.
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 150,000 – 250,000 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: