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Happy birthday, Colo: Oldest gorilla in the US turns 60

Friday, December 23, 2016

Associated Press

COLUMBUS

She is a mother of three, grandmother of 16, great-grandmother of 12 and great-great-grandmother of three. She recently had surgery to remove a malignant tumor, but doctors say she’s doing well.

She’s Colo, the nation’s oldest living gorilla, and she turned 60 on Thursday at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Colo was the first gorilla in the world born in a zoo and has surpassed the usual life expectancy of captive gorillas by two decades. Her longevity is putting a spotlight on the medical care, nutrition and up-to-date therapeutic techniques that are helping lengthen zoo animals’ lives.

“Colo just epitomizes the advances that zoos have made, going all the way back to her birth at Columbus,” said Dr. Tom Meehan, vice president for veterinary services at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and veterinary adviser to a national gorilla species survival plan.

The changes also mean more animals living with the normal aches and pains of growing older. Today, zoo veterinarians regularly treat animals for heart and kidney disease, arthritis, dental problems and cancer.

Hundreds of people gathered at the zoo Thursday to see Colo, singing “Happy Birthday” moments before the gorilla ambled into an enclosure decorated with multicolored construction paper chains and filled with cakes such as squash and beet and cornbread with mashed-potato parsley frosting.

Among the first in line was Pam Schlereth of Columbus, who at 63 was just a little girl when her father brought her to see the newborn Colo in a gorilla incubator in 1956.

“It’s a tribute to the zoo that she’s alive at 60 years old,” Schlereth said.

Colo represents so much to the zoo, Tom Stalf, president of the zoo, told the crowd. “It’s all about connecting people and wildlife,” he said.

Colo is one of several elderly gorillas around the country. The oldest known living male gorilla, Ozzie, is 55 years old and lives at the Atlanta Zoo, which has a geriatric gorilla specialty.

Colo, a western lowland gorilla, holds several other records.

On her 56th birthday in 2012, she exceeded the record for longest-lived gorilla.

On Thursday, she surpassed the median life expectancy for female gorillas in human care (37.5 years) by more than two decades.