Zoo Atlanta mourns death of 50-year-old gorilla - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Zoo Atlanta mourns death of 50-year-old gorilla

50-year-old Ivan 50-year-old Ivan

ATLANTA (AP) - Atlanta's zoo is mourning the death of a male lowland gorilla.

Zoo Atlanta says 50-year-old Ivan never regained consciousness after he was put under general anesthesia Monday for a diagnostic assessment. The zoo says the geriatric ape had recently lost weight, seemed to lack appetite and had a respiratory illness.

Ivan had lived at Zoo Atlanta since 1994. He was born in the wild around 1962 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wildlife traders sold him to the owners of a department store in Tacoma, Wash., in 1964. Three years later, he was moved to an indoor enclosure at the store.

Facing pressure from zoological and animal rights communities, the store in 1994 donated Ivan to a zoo in Seattle, which transferred him to Atlanta.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Ivan: An Amazing Journey  

1960s: Infancy in Africa and a Trans-Atlantic Journey

Circa 1962: Ivan and a twin sibling are born in the wild in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In an era in which many zoos still acquire baby apes directly from the wild, the infants are captured for their market value.

1964: Ivan and his twin are brought to the U.S. and sold by wildlife traders to the owners of the B&I department store in Tacoma, Wash. Ivan's twin dies soon after their arrival, and he spends his early years as a pet in a human household.

1967: Great apes make poor pets, and Ivan is no exception. Although only 5, he is already too large, strong and boisterous for life with a human family. As a solution, Ivan is moved to an indoor enclosure inside the B&I department store. He will not go outdoors again for nearly 30 years.

1970s-1994: The "Shopping Mall Gorilla"

1970s and 1980s: Ivan is the star attraction of the B&I store, and he becomes Tacoma's most famous non-human resident. Over the next two decades, he is visited by thousands of friends and fans, an adoring public who may not realize at this time that Ivan's lifestyle is utterly at odds with the physical, social and behavioral needs of his species. Meanwhile, across the U.S. in Atlanta, Ga., in 1988, another solitary gorilla, Zoo Atlanta's Willie B., enters a naturalistic habitat for the first time after more than 25 years in a small indoor enclosure.

1992: The B&I department store is facing bankruptcy, and finances aren't its owners' only woes. Riding on the cresting wave of a global push toward naturalistic settings for wild animals in captivity, Ivan's friends and fans now recognize that a 30-year-old male gorilla has specific social and spatial needs – needs that aren't being met within the confines of a glass-enclosed room.

1994: Ivan's solitary existence has by now provoked national outrage within the zoological and animal welfare communities, and in 1994, his owners donate him to Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo.
Back East, Willie B.'s high-profile turn from longtime loner to successful silverback has lent national credibility to the gorilla program at Zoo Atlanta, which has by now seen a succession of births. With the approval of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), the Woodland Park Zoo sends Ivan to Atlanta on permanent loan in October 1994.

1995-2011: Sun, space and ladies

1995: Ivan explores The Ford African Rain Forest at Zoo Atlanta in spring 1995 – the first time he has been outdoors in more than 27 years. Sunlight, trees, grass and fresh air are sensory enrichment he has not experienced since 1967.

There's another new experience, too – girls! Ivan makes his debut with females Molly and Kuchi, and he later meets Shamba, Kashata and Kinyani. While he socializes well with his female companions, and is even observed mating with the flirtatious Kinyani, Ivan sires no offspring.

2010: Ivan's 15th anniversary in Atlanta is observed at Zoo Atlanta. He is photographed holding a sign reading, "Ivan ‘Hearts' Atlanta," and it's obvious that Atlanta "hearts" him, too.

2011: Ivan's last "roommate," Kinyani, leaves Zoo Atlanta for the Columbus Zoo – a departure Ivan hardly seems to notice. After more than 16 years in Atlanta, it's apparent that while he has never overtly rejected the presence of other gorillas, his most lasting social relationships have always been with his keepers, with whom he has formed close personal bonds.

Today: "Dear Zoo Atlanta …"

2012: Ivan's fans from the Pacific Northwest have never forgotten the "Shopping Mall Gorilla." While the Zoo might have expected the occasional call or email from a curious old friend with a wonderful memory, inquiries about Ivan have been far from occasional. He still receives birthday and holiday cards, letters and greetings, and his legacy has even continued into the age of social media. Of our more than 1,500 residents, Ivan is the most asked-about animal on the Zoo's Facebook profile.

From Zoo Atlanta 

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