Last month, on 23rd September to be exact, Basel Zoo’s celebrity gorilla Goma turned 55. This grand old gorilla lady can look back at an extraordinary life. Goma has been a celebrity since her birth in 1959. She was raised as one of the family by the zoo director at the time, Prof. Ernst Lang. As the first gorilla to be born in a European zoo, Goma was the favourite of an entire generation of zoo visitors. Clearly an elderly now, Goma still lives at Basel Zoo and enjoys good health.
Goma’s eventful life has gained a few further milestones in recent years. When Basel’s western lowland gorilla group returned to its newly renovated monkey house in 2011 following a year in a temporary home, she was the first to examine her new surroundings. In September 2012, Goma was also the first to confidently investigate the new outdoor enclosures. On 19th September Goma met a new silverback, M’Tongé, who is 15 years of age. She made it clear to him that a youngster such as he would have to earn her respect.
Currently, only four gorillas older than Goma can be found living in a zoo globally. The oldest is the very first gorilla to be born in a zoo, female gorilla Colo in Columbus Zoo (USA). Prof. Ernst Lang, who raised Goma with great care as a member of the family, continues to visit Goma. He lives in Basel and celebrated his 100th birthday on 16th October 2013.
Goma’s eventful life, a brief video biography (text in German):
(Source: Zoo Basel YouTube channel)
An extraordinary CV
Goma’s birth and early years were heavily reported in the worldwide media of the time. At the age of around one, Goma gained the company of Pepe (who was the same age). The pair were later brought back to her hereditary family group. Goma raised her son Tamtam, born in 1971, without human help, once again bringing her to international attention: Tamtam was the first second-generation zoo gorilla and the first baby gorilla to grow up in a zoo from birth in the company of a silverback. He was to remain Goma’s only child. Due to her extraordinary childhood, Goma still bonds with humans and has thus remained an outsider in her group. Goma has only begun to integrate increasingly into family life over the last few years.
Goma celebrated her fifty-fifth birthday with the five other gorillas of the Basel group, silverback M’Tongé (15), her sister Quarta (45), Faddama (3), Joas (24) and Zungu (11).
The Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) is listed since 2007 as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™. The gorilla population is threatened by high levels of hunting/poaching (e.g. for bushmeat), disease induced mortality (especially ebola) and habitat loss. Of the three major threats mentioned, two are manmade. A viable and genetically diverse population of gorillas in zoos is therefore paramount to be able to return captive born specimens into the wild — such as the hand-reared individuals originating from the highly successful captive breeding programme at Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks in Kent, UK — and support the survival of this magnificent ape.
(Source: Basel Zoo news, 17.09.2014)