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Zoo Atlanta is home to the world’s oldest male gorilla
Monday, July 23, 2012

Ozzie joins elite list of the oldest gorillas in human care

ATLANTA – July 23, 2012 – A pioneering patriarch at Zoo Atlanta has earned yet another international distinction. Ozzie, a 51-year-old western lowland gorilla, is now the oldest living male gorilla. The only male on a short list of the zoological community’s longest-lived gorillas, he is also one of the top 10 oldest members of his species in the world.

Born in the wild in Africa in approximately 1961, Ozzie, whose given name is Ozoum, was part of an original group of western lowland gorillas that came to Zoo Atlanta from Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center in the late 1980s. As part of that group, he was one of the first individuals to explore the Zoo’s Ford African Rain Forest following its opening in 1988.

Over the course of nearly 25 years, Ozzie has sired 11 offspring, five of whom still reside at Zoo Atlanta. One of Ozzie’s sons, Jasiri, now lives at 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.

Ozzie and his descendants, which also include eight grandchildren, have helped to inspire more than two generations of Atlantans to value and preserve western lowland gorillas. In 2009 at the age of 48, the silverback amazed the zoological veterinary community by becoming the first gorilla in the world ever to voluntarily participate in a blood pressure reading using an arm cuff. The accomplishments of Ozzie and his care staff helped to elevate the profile of the Great Ape Heart Project, a multi-institutional effort to identify, treat, and prevent cardiac disease in great apes. Hayley Murphy, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Zoo Atlanta, serves as the project’s primary investigator.

Now the largest in North America, the gorilla collection at Zoo Atlanta also includes three other special senior members: Shamba, 53; Choomba, 51; and Ivan, 50. Gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of about 35.

In recent years, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) adjusted the status of western lowland gorillas, which had been listed as endangered, to critically endangered. Habitat loss and poaching are the primary threats to western lowland gorilla populations, which may have declined by as much as 95 percent in some parts of Africa over the past two decades. 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.