It’s always a hard day at a zoo when an animal passes away, but it’s even harder when it’s an animal who was so famous and beloved. Animals who live long lives can mean so much to generations of visitors.
Today, Zoo Atlanta is mourning the loss of one of their most beloved animals: Ozzie, who held the record as the oldest male gorilla, has died at the age of 61.
“This is a devastating loss for Zoo Atlanta,” Raymond B. King, the zoo’s President and CEO, said in a press release. “While we knew this time would come someday, that inevitability does nothing to stem the deep sadness we feel at losing a legend.”
Ozzie was found dead on January 25 by his care team. While the cause of death is not yet known, Ozzie had been exhibiting signs of illness: he had decreased appetite and experienced face swelling and weakness.
While the loss is sad, no one can say Ozzie died too young: he far exceeded his species’ life expectancy. Western lowland gorillas only live 30-40 years in the wild, though can reach into their 50s in human care.
“Gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of 40,” Zoo Atlanta writes.
When Ozzie celebrated his 60th birthday last year, it was an unheard-of milestone. Ozzie was not only the oldest male gorilla in the world, but he’s the oldest one in recorded history. He was also the third-oldest gorilla overall.
Ozzie was a very special animal for Zoo Atlanta. He was their oldest gorilla, and was the last surviving member of the zoo’s original gorilla population, who arrived in 1988 after the opening of their Ford African Rain Forest.
“Ozzie was a true living legend in the fabric of Zoo Atlanta’s history … an icon in his own time, symbolic of the dramatic rebirth of the Zoo in the 1980s,” the zoo said in their press release.
Ozzie’s record-breaking longevity can be credited for the care he received throughout his life, helping to make the zoo’s Gorilla Care Team a famous leader in the care of geriatric gorillas.
Over the course of his long life, Ozzie left behind quite a legacy: he is survived by daughter Kuchi; sons Kekla, Stadi, and Charlie; granddaughter Lulu; great-granddaughter Andi, and great-grandson Floyd. He also has other descendants living in other zoos.
In producing so many offspring, Ozzie has played a significant part in helping to repopulate the western lowland gorilla population, which has declined in recent decades due to illegal poaching and habitat loss, and is now considered a critically endangered species. The gorillas’ mating is overseen by the AZA Gorilla Species Survival Plan.
“Ozzie has made lasting contributions to the future of his species in his years at Zoo Atlanta,” the zoo wrote last year.
“Ozzie’s life’s contributions are indelible, in the generations of individuals he leaves behind in the gorilla population and in the world’s body of knowledge in the care of his species,” said Raymond B. King.
“Our thoughts are with his care team, who have lost a part of their lives and a part of their hearts.”
Rest in peace, Ozzie. What an incredible life and legacy. You’ll never be forgotten.
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