Powell, OH – Columbus Zoo staff and volunteers are mourning the loss of Lulu, a female western lowland gorilla estimated to be 46 years of age, who died without warning.
Except for suffering from arthritis, the elderly gorilla had not shown any signs of illness until Saturday, Jan. 22 when she had a seizure. The frequency and severity of the seizures progressed and on Monday, Jan. 24 while being sedated in preparation for an MRI she stopped breathing and could not be resuscitated. A necropsy (animal autopsy) is being performed.
“Lulu was a favorite of Zoo staff and visitors” said Columbus Zoo President and CEO Dale Schmidt. “Easily recognizable by her pink tongue that was perpetually sticking out, she could be found surrounded by her gorilla family which always included youngsters.”
Lulu was born in equatorial Africa and was brought to the Central Park Zoo in 1966 at approximately two years of age. Lulu gave birth to a baby girl, Pattycake, in 1972. Pattycake was the first gorilla born in New York City and an instant celebrity. Lulu gave birth again in 1975 and that infant, also a female, did not survive.
Lulu and Pattycake moved to the Bronx Zoo before Lulu was brought to the Columbus Zoo in 1984 on a breeding recommendation made in conjunction with the Species Survival Plan. She produced three more female offspring between 1987 and 1991 including Binti Jua (BIN-tee JEW-a) who gained fame in 1996 when she gently carried a toddler after he climbed over a barrier and tumbled into the gorilla habitat at the Brookfield Zoo.
In her later non-reproductive years Lulu was taught by animal care staff utilizing positive reinforcement to come when asked to the mesh surrounding her habitat. This behavior, coupled with Lulu’s love for babies, placed her at the forefront of the Columbus Zoo’s world renowned gorilla surrogacy program. Lulu became the surrogate mother to two infants whose mothers were unable to care for them including a granddaughter who was born via caesarian section at the Columbus Zoo, one of the first for the species. Lulu provided maternal care while also bringing the infants to the mesh so that they could be bottle-fed by gorilla keepers.
There are now 16 gorillas at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium including Colo the first gorilla born in human care who at 54 years of age is the oldest gorilla in a zoo. Two other gorillas, female Pongi (pon-JEE) and male Mumbah (muhm-BAH), are in their forties and considered geriatric.
“When she came to the Columbus Zoo our first impression of Lulu was she was one tough lady” reflected Vice President Animal Care and Conservation Dusty Lombardi, “but it wasn’t long before she showed us her sweet maternal side. She was also fun-loving and enjoyed playing hide and seek with her keepers.”
Zoo staff are requesting memories of Lulu be posted on the Zoo’s Facebook page.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is open 363 days of the year. General admission is $12.99 for adults, $7.99 for children ages 2 to 9 and seniors 60+. Children under 2 and Columbus Zoo members are free. The Zoo was named the #1 Zoo in America by USA Travel Guide and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA.) For more information and to purchase advance Zoo admission tickets, visit www.columbuszoo.org.