March 27, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Note: Images of Alpha western lowland gorilla may be downloaded at our photo download page.
Brookfield, Ill.—Animal care staff at the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) are sad to announce the death of Alpha, a female western lowland gorilla, at Brookfield Zoo on March 26. At 48 years of age, Alpha was one of the oldest female gorillas in the North American zoo population, and her legacy will have a far-reaching effect on the gorilla population through her descendants, hopefully for many years to come.
Over the last few weeks, keepers at Brookfield Zoo’s Tropic World exhibit noticed that Alpha had not been acting in her usual feisty way. Based on her behavior, it appeared she was in significant discomfort. On the evening of March 24, veterinarians—along with several outside medical consultants—performed a procedure during which it was discovered that Alpha was in the late stage of kidney failure due to her advanced age. Despite continued medical treatment, her condition did not improve, and the staff and veterinarian team discussed the quality of life and level of future treatment options available before making the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Alpha.
A wild-born animal, Alpha arrived at Brookfield Zoo on August 2, 1963, at an estimated age of 2½ years. “Alpha was an important and cherished member of the gorilla group. She was the matriarch and mainstay of Brookfield Zoo’s gorilla group for more than 30 years. And, although the dynamics of the group have changed over the past few years, Alpha continued to play an integral and important social role within the group,” said Kim Smith, vice president of animal care for CZS.
Between 1969 and 1991, Alpha gave birth to seven infants. She is survived by two of her offspring—Jabari, a 24-year-old male at Philadelphia Zoo, and Kwisha, a 21-year-old male at Toledo Zoo—as well as eight grandchildren, including Bana, age 14, who resides in Tropic World along with one of Alpha’s eight great-grandchildren, Nadaya, 8.
CZS’s Primate Department is a leader in husbandry, research, and gorilla management. Staff have served and currently serve as steering committee members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan, a management breeding program among North American zoos, and provide leadership in medical care and research for this important species. Animal care, knowledge, and medical technology have improved considerably in zoos over the years, which means veterinarians and keepers are caring for more and more animals that are living longer, healthier lives.
Considered a geriatric animal herself, Alpha lived a long life at Brookfield Zoo due to the dedicated and expert care she received. Like many elderly humans, she did have a variety of age-related conditions, including arthritis, dental problems, and the onset of cataracts. To ease her discomforts, she received arthritis medication, flax seed oil and vitamin E for dry skin, and some extra TLC from her keepers.
“Alpha’s feisty personality mellowed somewhat in her older years, but she was always able to stand up for herself within the group,” said Craig Demitros, who was one of Alpha’s keepers for more than 20 years before becoming associate curator in 2008. “She will be missed by all of us who have cared for her over the years, as well as the millions of guests who had the opportunity to see her during their visits to the zoo.”
After she passed, those who worked closest with Alpha paid their last respects. They then were present as members of the gorilla group were given access to her body. Some of the female gorillas went up to Alpha to smell and touch her. Ramar, the group’s silverback male, or leader, sat close to Alpha and appeared very protective and watchful as each of the others approached her during the approximately 20-minute gathering. Ramar and Nadaya made what could be interpreted as a “grieving” vocalization. Gorilla caregivers all agreed it was a very tender and emotional moment, and the situation was therapeutic for them. All have deep respect for the intelligence and the complex emotional lives of gorillas. Gatherings such as this have become standard practice at several accredited zoos that house gorillas.
The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Open every day of the year, Brookfield Zoo is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA, and PACE bus service. For further information, visit www.CZS.org
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