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Dewar Wildlife Trust’s Joe the gorilla passes at 49
Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beloved resident of the Dewar Wildlife Trust had been under the care of the Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team in conjunction with Dr. Francis Cipullo


ATLANTA – July 31,  2012 – Joe, a 49-year-old western lowland gorilla, has died at the Dewar Wildlife Trust in Morganton, Ga. The Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team and Dewar Wildlife’s Francis Cipullo, DVM, made the difficult ecision to euthanize Joe on July 31 following a recent marked decline in his health along with ongoing chronic health conditions, including cardiac disease.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Joe. While the Zoo Atlanta staff who worked with Joe hadn’t known him for very long, all had come to appreciate his unique personality,” said Dwight Lawson, PhD, Deputy Director at Zoo Atlanta. “He was a very special resident of not only the Dewar Wildlife Trust, but also of the other zoos that shared his life over his many years in the U.S.”

Born in the wild in Cameroon in 1963, Joe was the third oldest western lowland gorilla living in a zoological setting. In 1966, Joe became a resident of the Birmingham Zoo in Birmingham, Ala., where he lived for the next 20 years. Despite being housed with females at the Birmingham Zoo and later the Denver Zoo in Denver, Colo., and the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, Joe never sired any offspring. In 2003, he moved to the Dewar Wildlife Trust, an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) certified exotic animal facility in Morganton, Ga.

Zoo Atlanta has entered into a partnership with the Dewar Wildlife Trust, which was designed to house gorillas, and over the coming months will continue to explore a variety of opportunities provided through this partnership. Willie B., Jr., and Jasiri, two young male western lowland gorillas from Zoo Atlanta, also now reside at the Dewar Wildlife Trust. Since January 2012, Joe had been under the care of the Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team, in conjunction with Cipullo, who had worked with Joe for more than a decade.

As is the case with all animal deaths, regardless of age, a necropsy will be conducted through the Zoo’s partnership with the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The partnership combines the expertise of researchers from the University of Georgia Infectious Diseases Laboratory, based in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, and pathologists from the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Veterinary Pathology.

Gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of about 35. Now the largest in North America, the gorilla collection at Zoo Atlanta includes four special senior members: Ozzie, 51, the oldest living male western lowland gorilla in the world; female Shamba, 53; female Choomba, 51; and male Ivan, 50. 

Zoo Atlanta is a national center of excellence for the care and study of gorillas, with more than 120 published research papers authored or co-authored by Zoo Atlanta staff. In 2011, Zoo Atlanta received the AZA Edward H. Bean Award for Scientific Achievement in recognition of its long-term commitment to the species. Hayley Murphy, Director of Veterinary Services at Zoo Atlanta, is the primary investigator on the Great Ape Heart Project, a multi-institutional effort to identify, treat, and prevent cardiac disease in great apes.

Joe had become a special figure to many people in Georgia over the past decade, and he will be missed by all who knew and cared about him.