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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Goodbye, Colo

I've heard a lot of people complain that 2016 took away many of the best celebrities that we have.  Well, now it's half-a-month into 2017, and we've already lost two of the most famous zoo-and-aquarium celebrities of our times.  Earlier this year, of course, we had the death of Tilikum, the infamous orca from SeaWorld.  Today, Columbus Zoo announced the passing of Colo, the world's first captive-born gorilla.  She was 60 years old when she passed away in her sleep.

Colo was rejected by her mother and was hand-raised by keepers.  At the age of two, she was introduced to her future mate, Bongo, with whom she had three children.  Having never gained first-hand parenting experience, Colo never raised her own children... but she did help raise her grandchildren.  By the time of her death, she was a great, great grandmother, with two dozen some descendants.  Some went to zoos around the country, but many remained with her in Columbus.

What makes Colo's passing truly remarkable is its testament to the changes in zoo animal welfare over the years.  Prior to Colo's birth in 1956, gorillas had never been bred in captivity, and it hadn't been the long ago when they were considered virtually impossible to keep alive in the first place.  Today, there are hundreds of gorillas in zoos around the world - virtually all of them zoo-borns - making them one of the most sustainable, most genetically-secure zoo populations.  We no longer worry about getting them to eat, or watch them fade away from depression and disease.  We now have large, vibrant family groups, and one of our greatest medical challenges is maintaining geriatric gorillas in good cardiac health; one of our main demographic challenges is managing young bachelor males.

Colo's passing doubtlessly has left a huge hole in the hearts of her many keepers and admirers.  It's been touching, however, to see the community rally around them with support and fond memories of a great, great grandmother of an ape.

Colo at her 60th birthday party, courtesy of Columbus Zoo


  1. I had no idea about Colo's death yesterday. She was a beautiful animal. I came upon your blog by chance - I was looking at Jacksonville on Google maps and noticed it had a zoo, so I clicked on that..... and your blog appeared somewhere. Thank you for the info about Colo, and for your reviews of zoos. I haven't read them all yet. I don't necessarily agree with zoos, unless they accommodate retired, abused working animals who need sanctuary.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your sentiment about zoos, but there is more than one kind of sanctuary that animals are in need of. There are those that serve as sanctuaries for individuals, such as animals which have been rescued from abuse or neglect. Then there are sanctuaries for species - zoos and aquariums that are working to save species which are rapidly disappearing in the wild. For many species, such as tigers and ring-tailed lemurs, there are more individuals in zoos than in the wild. I hope that you continue to explore the blog, and maybe see for yourself some of the great work that (reputable) zoos and aquariums do. PS: Jacksonville Zoo is a fine institution, pay a visit and see if you agree!