First Gorilla Born in Captivity

First Gorilla Born in Captivity


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On December 22, 1956, a baby gorilla named Colo enters the world at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, becoming the first-ever gorilla born in captivity. Weighing in at approximately 4 pounds, Colo, a western lowland gorilla whose name was a combination of Columbus and Ohio, was the daughter of Millie and Mac, two gorillas captured in French Cameroon, Africa, who were brought to the Columbus Zoo in 1951. Before Colo’s birth, gorillas found at zoos were caught in the wild, often by brutal means. In order to capture a gorilla when it was young and therefore still small enough to handle, hunters frequently had to kill the gorilla’s parents and other family members.

Gorillas are peaceful, intelligent animals, native to Africa, who live in small groups led by one adult male, known as a silverback. There are three subspecies of gorilla: western lowland, eastern lowland and mountain. The subspecies are similar and the majority of gorillas in captivity are western lowland. Gorillas are vegetarians whose only natural enemy is the humans who hunt them. On average, a gorilla lives to 35 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity.

At the time Colo was born, captive gorillas often never learned parenting skills from their own parents in the wild, so the Columbus Zoo built her a nursery and she was reared by zookeepers. In the years since Colo’s arrival, zookeepers have developed habitats that simulate a gorilla’s natural environment and many captive-born gorillas are now raised by their mothers. In situations where this doesn’t work, zoos have created surrogacy programs, in which the infants are briefly cared for by humans and then handed over to other gorillas to raise.

Colo, who generated enormous public interest, went on to become a mother, grandmother, and in 1996, a great-grandmother to Timu, the first surviving infant gorilla conceived by artificial insemination. Timu gave birth to her first baby in 2003.

Today, there are approximately 750 gorillas in captivity around the world and an estimated 100,000 lowland gorillas (and far fewer mountain gorillas) remaining in the wild. Most zoos are active in captive breeding programs and have agreed not to buy gorillas born in the wild.

Colo died in 2017.


Koko (gorilla)

Hanabiko "Koko" (July 4, 1971 – June 19, 2018) was a female western lowland gorilla. Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo and lived most of her life in Woodside, California, [2] at The Gorilla Foundation's preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains. [3] The name "Hanabiko" ( 花火子 ) , lit. ''fireworks child'', is of Japanese origin and is a reference to her date of birth, the Fourth of July. Koko gained public attention upon a report of her having adopted a kitten as a pet and naming him "All Ball", revealing her ability to rhyme.

Her instructor and caregiver, Francine Patterson, reported that Koko had an active vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs of what Patterson calls "Gorilla Sign Language" (GSL). [4] [5] This puts Koko's vocabulary at the same level as a three-year-old human. [6] In contrast to other experiments attempting to teach sign language to non-human primates, Patterson simultaneously exposed Koko to spoken English from an early age. It was reported that Koko understood approximately 2,000 words of spoken English, in addition to the signs. [7] Koko's life and learning process has been described by Patterson and various collaborators in books, peer-reviewed scientific articles, and on a website. [8]

As with other great-ape language experiments, the extent to which Koko mastered and demonstrated language through the use of these signs is debated. [9] [10] She certainly understood nouns, verbs, and adjectives, including abstract concepts like "good" and "fake", and was able to ask simple questions. It is generally accepted that she did not use syntax or grammar, and that her use of language did not exceed that of a young human child. [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] However, she scored between 70 and 90 on various infant IQ scales, and some experts, including Mary Lee Jensvold, claim that Koko "[used] language the same way people do". [16] [17] [18]


Captive breeding

Western lowland gorillas are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). For zoos that maintain gorilla populations, breeding them successfully in captivity is a vital part of preserving this fragile species.

To that end, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums maintains a Species Survival Plan that compiles genetic information about animals in captivity, to help zoos determine which pairings will likely produce the healthiest offspring.

JJ is the first infant sired by his father, Macombo II. But Mac, as he is called, had previously helped care for unrelated infants in his group — an uncommon behavior in adult male gorillas, zoo officials said in the statement. Mac was born at the Columbus Zoo in 1983 Tabibu was born in Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo in 1992 and came to live at the Columbus Zoo in 2012.

Once prospective mates have been introduced within a social group, zoo caretakers test female gorillas monthly for signs of pregnancy. "We use human pregnancy tests," Meinelt told Live Science, which they administer using urine collected from enclosure floors or captured directly from the gorillas.

Gorilla gestation is comparable to a human female's, but there can be a wide range of possible due dates — in Tabibu's case, that window was about six weeks, during which Tabibu could have gone into labor at any time, Meinelt said. Shortly before that period, caretakers moved Tabibu's entire group to a new area, where they would rotate between two spaces, only one of which was open to public view.

For now, JJ will be visible to the public only through photos, and zoo officials hope that news of his birth will kindle visitors' interest — not just in the newborn himself, but in his zoo "family" and in gorilla conservation efforts worldwide.

"Every birth of a critically endangered species is especially exciting, but to welcome a critically endangered gorilla into our family is one of the most extraordinary announcements we can make," Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo, said in the statement.


Colo, first gorilla born in a zoo, celebrates 58th birthday

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Colo, who was the first gorilla born in a zoo when she arrived prematurely, celebrated her 58th birthday Monday at the zoo in Columbus, Ohio.

The western lowland gorilla's birthday party was to be livestreamed around the world. Keepers set out treats to tempt Colo to remain within camera range for her worldwide public.

Colo, now the oldest gorilla in captivity in the United States and possibly the world, is no stranger to celebrity. When she was born in 1956 at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, then Mayor M.E. "Jack" Sensenbrenner gave away cigars labeled "It's a girl" and both Time and Life magazines featured stories on the newborn.

Her name is short for Columbus. The zoo said she was called Cuddles in her early days until a contest was held to pick a name.

Colo came close to death at least twice, starting when Warhren Thomas, a part-time keeper, found the newborn on the floor of her mother's cage several weeks before her expected arrival. At 6 she survived a bout of pneumonia after veterinarians predicted she would soon be dead.

She was removed from her mother and raised by humans because zoo staff feared her mother, Millie, would harm her.

Before Colo's arrival, efforts to play matchmaker with male and female gorillas had been unsuccessful. Thomas brought Millie and her mate together at night after the zoo's director had ordered Millie and her mate to be kept in separate cages because he feared they would attack each other.

Captive-bred western lowland gorillas are now common. Colo herself has had three children, 16 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.

The species is classified as critically endangered.

For a gorilla her age, Colo appears healthy, Audra Meinelt, assistant curator of the zoo's Congo Expedition, said.

"She does not appear to have a single bit of trouble with her eyes or ears," Meinelt said. "Mostly, she has arthritis in her hands and feet."

Meinelt expected Colo to enjoy her birthday party.

"She knows the whole day is about her," Meinelt said. "She'll get a cake, and she'll get presents to open -- wrapped boxes with a few extra treats like mixed nuts and clementines."


Dec 22, 1956: First Gorilla Born in Captivity

On this day in 1956, a baby gorilla named Colo enters the world at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, becoming the first-ever gorilla born in captivity. Weighing in at approximately 4 pounds, Colo, a western lowland gorilla whose name was a combination of Columbus and Ohio, was the daughter of Millie and Mac, two gorillas captured in French Cameroon, Africa, who were brought to the Columbus Zoo in 1951. Before Colo’s birth, gorillas found at zoos were caught in the wild, often by brutal means. In order to capture a gorilla when it was young and therefore still small enough to handle, hunters frequently had to kill the gorilla’s parents and other family members.

Gorillas are peaceful, intelligent animals, native to Africa, who live in small groups led by one adult male, known as a silverback. There are three subspecies of gorilla: western lowland, eastern lowland and mountain. The subspecies are similar and the majority of gorillas in captivity are western lowland. Gorillas are vegetarians whose only natural enemy is the humans who hunt them. On average, a gorilla lives to 35 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity.

At the time Colo was born, captive gorillas often never learned parenting skills from their own parents in the wild, so the Columbus Zoo built her a nursery and she was reared by zookeepers. In the years since Colo’s arrival, zookeepers have developed habitats that simulate a gorilla’s natural environment and many captive-born gorillas are now raised by their mothers. In situations where this doesn’t work, zoos have created surrogacy programs, in which the infants are briefly cared for by humans and then handed over to other gorillas to raise.

Colo, who generated enormous public interest and is still alive today, went on to become a mother, grandmother, and in 1996, a great-grandmother to Timu, the first surviving infant gorilla conceived by artificial insemination. Timu gave birth to her first baby in 2003.

Today, there are approximately 750 gorillas in captivity around the world and an estimated 100,000 lowland gorillas (and far fewer mountain gorillas) remaining in the wild. Most zoos are active in captive breeding programs and have agreed not to buy gorillas born in the wild. Since Colo’s birth, 30 gorillas have been born at the Columbus Zoo alone.


'Round-the-clock attention

Zoo staff provided 24-hour care for the infant, and she grew and thrived under their attention. In 1958, she was introduced to a male gorilla, Bongo, who became her companion and mate for the next 25 years, and with whom she produced three young gorillas, two females and a male. Over the years, Colo's offspring brought her 16 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. "JJ," the most recent gorilla arrival at the zoo, was born Sept. 28 and is Colo's great-grandson.

Colo currently lives in close proximity to other gorillas, but her keepers have made special arrangements to accommodate her dietary and social needs as she ages. She has her own enclosure, as she appeared to be more comfortable spending her days apart from the larger groups, said Audra Meinelt, the assistant curator of the Congo Expedition at the Columbus Zoo.

In recent years, Colo has also been particularly challenged by arthritis, just as aging humans can be, Meinelt told Live Science. Dietary supplements help to counteract stiffness, while zoo staff have modified structures in Colo's living space to make it easier for her to get around they also created enrichment devices to encourage Colo to use her digits.

"Her arthritis is very specific to her hands and feet, so we came up with ways to get her to use her fingers more often," Meinelt said. "We also changed the way that we present her diet, so that also causes her to exercise her fingers."


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Berlin zoo celebrates first gorilla birth in 16 years

The newborn, which yet has to be named after its sex can be determined, was born to 24-year-old first time mom Bibi and her 16-year-old partner Sango, the zoo said.

During the current coronavirus pandemic, not even keepers or veterinarians will go close to the little primate.

In January, as many as eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park were presumed to have contracted COVID-19 from a human handler after one of the animals tested positive, marking the first known transmission of the virus to apes, zoo officials said at the time.

The coronavirus has also been found in a number of other wild-animal species in captivity, including several lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York and four lions at the Barcelona Zoo in Spain.

Berlin Zoo's indoor houses are currently closed to visitors due to coronavirus restrictions and the present quieter environment is just what the little gorilla needs, according to its keepers who were full of praise for both first-time parents. Bibi "is doing a fantastic job," said her keeper Christian Aust.


First gorilla born in captivity | DECEMBER 22

On this day in 1956, a baby gorilla named Colo enters the world at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, becoming the first-ever gorilla born in captivity. Weighing in at approximately 4 pounds, Colo, a western lowland gorilla whose name was a combination of Columbus and Ohio, was the daughter of Millie and Mac, two gorillas captured in French Cameroon, Africa, who were brought to the Columbus Zoo in 1951. Before Colo’s birth, gorillas found at zoos were caught in the wild, often by brutal means. In order to capture a gorilla when it was young and therefore still small enough to handle, hunters frequently had to kill the gorilla’s parents and other family members.

Gorillas are peaceful, intelligent animals, native to Africa, who live in small groups led by one adult male, known as a silverback. There are three subspecies of gorilla: western lowland, eastern lowland and mountain. The subspecies are similar and the majority of gorillas in captivity are western lowland. Gorillas are vegetarians whose only natural enemy is the humans who hunt them. On average, a gorilla lives to 35 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity.

At the time Colo was born, captive gorillas often never learned parenting skills from their own parents in the wild, so the Columbus Zoo built her a nursery and she was reared by zookeepers. In the years since Colo’s arrival, zookeepers have developed habitats that simulate a gorilla’s natural environment and many captive-born gorillas are now raised by their mothers. In situations where this doesn’t work, zoos have created surrogacy programs, in which the infants are briefly cared for by humans and then handed over to other gorillas to raise.

Colo, who generated enormous public interest and is still alive today, went on to become a mother, grandmother, and in 1996, a great-grandmother to Timu, the first surviving infant gorilla conceived by artificial insemination. Timu gave birth to her first baby in 2003.

Today, there are approximately 750 gorillas in captivity around the world and an estimated 100,000 lowland gorillas (and far fewer mountain gorillas) remaining in the wild. Most zoos are active in captive breeding programs and have agreed not to buy gorillas born in the wild. Since Colo’s birth, 30 gorillas have been born at the Columbus Zoo alone.


Oldest living gorilla in captivity

A western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) named Fatou has been a resident at Zoo Berlin in Germany since May 1959 – a total of 60 years. Estimated to have been born in the wild in 1957, she was c. two years old on her arrival to Berlin and celebrated her 62nd year on 13 April 2019 (the date the zoo has allocated as her birthday). The typical life expectancy of gorillas in captivity is between 40 and 50 years old. Fatou was collected from the wild in western Africa and brought to Marseilles, France, in 1959 by a sailor, who used the young gorilla as payment to settle his account at a local tavern. Acquired by French animal trader Mme Lefevre, she was then purchased by Zoo Berlin in 1959.

Until recently, Fatou had been one of two contenders for the title of oldest gorilla, along with another western lowland gorilla called Trudy (estimated b. June 1956) who lived at Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas, USA. Sadly, Trudy passed away on 23 July 2019, leaving Fatou as the outright record holder.

The capture of wild animals for zoos is no longer considered acceptable by the zoological community, with the vast majority of animals born within captivity or transferred between facilities for breeding programmes.

The oldest gorilla that can be aged precisely was Colo, who was born in Columbus Zoo, Ohio, USA, on 22 December 1956 (the first gorilla born in a zoo) and died 17 January 2017 aged 60 years 26 days.

Zoo Berlin also holds the record for the most species at a zoo.

All records listed on our website are current and up-to-date. For a full list of record titles, please use our Record Application Search. (You will need to register / login for access)


Life history traits (averages)

  • [1258] Margulis et al. (2017), What necropsy reports can tell us about menopausal and age-related changes in Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
  • [1231] Lowenstine et al. (2016), Comparative Pathology of Aging Great Apes: Bonobos, Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and Orangutans(PubMed)
  • [1126] Perez et al. (2013), Alzheimer's disease pathology in the neocortex and hippocampus of the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)(PubMed)
  • [1106] Weiss et al. (2013), Extraversion predicts longer survival in gorillas: an 18-year longitudinal study(PubMed)
  • [1091] Bronikowski et al. (2011), Aging in the natural world: comparative data reveal similar mortality patterns across primates(PubMed)
  • [1026] Brown and Finnegan (2007), Resting heart rate and tympanic temperature in operant conditioned western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)(PubMed)
  • [1142] Kohler et al. (2006), Comparative mortality levels among selected species of captive animals
  • [0715] Lorenzini et al. (2005), Cellular replicative capacity correlates primarily with species body mass not longevity(PubMed)
  • [0671] Richard Weigl (2005), Longevity of Mammals in Captivity from the Living Collections of the World
  • [0341] Atsalis et al. (2004), Sexual behavior and hormonal estrus cycles in captive aged lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla)(PubMed)
  • [0681] Peter Kappeler and Michael Pereira (2003), Primate Life Histories and Socioecology
  • [0610] Ernest (2003), Life history characteristics of placental non-volant mammals
  • [0467] Lindenfors (2002), Sexually antagonistic selection on primate size
  • [0342] Kimura et al. (2001), Senile plaques in an aged western lowland gorilla(PubMed)
  • [0434] Ronald Nowak (1999), Walker's Mammals of the World
  • [0455] Virginia Hayssen et al. (1993), Asdell's Patterns of Mammalian Reproduction: A Compendium of Species-Specific Data
  • [0680] Wootton (1987), The effects of body mass, phylogeny, habitat, and trophic level on mammalian age at first reproduction
  • [0679] Harvey and Clutton-Brock (1985), Life-history variation in primates
  • [0731] Zullinger et al. (1984), Fitting sigmoid equations to mammalian growth curves
  • [0059] Tolmasoff et al. (1980), Superoxide dismutase: correlation with life-span and specific metabolic rate in primate species(PubMed)
  • [0436] Cutler (1979), Evolution of human longevity: a critical overview(PubMed)
  • [1151] Columbus Zoo

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