Elder care is a factor at the Zoo, too
Thursday, July 10, 2014
Geriatric gorilla pioneers stay indoors on hot summer days
ATLANTA – July 11, 2014 – Geriatric gorillas encounter many of the same challenges elderly humans do, and in Georgia summers, extra steps are taken to ensure the well-being of three of Zoo Atlanta’s treasured seniors. Shamba, 55, Ozzie, 53, and Choomba, 51, are among the world’s oldest gorillas, and their longevity has contributed to the Zoo’s leadership in the care of apes in their golden years.
While all Zoo residents are carefully observed during times of summer and winter temperature extremes, particular consideration is paid to the very young and the very old, whose care carries additional temperature restrictions. On especially hot summer days, Shamba, Ozzie and Choomba are offered a variety of forms of indoor enrichment but may not go into their outdoor habitats. The trio’s living areas have also been retrofitted for the needs of senior gorillas, who experience occasional bouts of arthritis and other age-related complaints familiar to humans, and the apes also receive popsicles and other treats to help them stay cool in summer.
“Shamba, Ozzie and Choomba are amazing individuals who have made obvious contributions to the gorilla collection at Zoo Atlanta, and their long lives are a testament to the superior care they’ve received here,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services and Director of the Great Ape Heart Project at Zoo Atlanta. “They continue to teach us about the ways we can help geriatric apes and other animals lead healthy, enriched lives even as they reach advanced ages.”
Shamba, Ozzie and Choomba are the only surviving members of the original generation of adult western lowland gorillas who arrived at Zoo Atlanta from Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center in the late 1980s, just prior to the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest in 1988. The world’s oldest living male gorilla at 53, Ozzie is the father of 10 children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, and in 2009, he became the first gorilla in the world ever to voluntarily participate in an awake blood pressure reading. Shamba has three children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and Choomba has three children, seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. Their collective descendants, which currently number more than 40, live at accredited zoos throughout North America, including Zoo Atlanta.
The Zoo’s seniors are among the last remaining representatives of a global short list of founder gorillas who were born in the wild in Africa, and they and their subsequent generations have helped to establish a healthy, viable zoological population that no longer depends on individuals being taken from the wild.
Zoo Atlanta is home to the nation’s largest collection of western lowland gorillas, which are a critically endangered species in need of urgent conservation attention. Wild populations may have declined by as much as 95 percent over the last two decades as a result of habitat loss and poaching.
Stay tuned for updates on these Zoo pioneers.