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Ozzie, world’s oldest male gorilla, has died

The Zoo Atlanta family is heartbroken to announce the passing of Ozzie, the world’s oldest male gorilla, at 61. The oldest gorilla at Zoo Atlanta and the third-oldest gorilla in the world, Ozzie was found deceased by his care team on January 25, 2022.

Ozzie’s cause of death is not yet known. He exhibited decreased appetite last Thursday, January 20, and the Animal Care and Veterinary Teams were providing him with supportive care to encourage him to eat and drink. Over the past 24 hours, the teams had been treating him when he presented symptoms including facial swelling, weakness, and inability to eat or drink. A necropsy, or the non-human equivalent of an autopsy, will be performed through the Zoo’s partnership with the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine and should provide the teams with more information on Ozzie’s condition. Zoo Atlanta will share these results once they are available.

“This is a devastating loss for Zoo Atlanta. While we knew this time would come someday, that inevitability does nothing to stem the deep sadness we feel at losing a legend,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “Ozzie’s life’s contributions are indelible, in the generations of individuals he leaves behind in the gorilla population and in the world’s body of knowledge in the care of his species. Our thoughts are with his care team, who have lost a part of their lives and a part of their hearts.”

Ozzie was a true living legend in the fabric of Zoo Atlanta’s history and, like his peer the late Willie B., was an icon in his own time, symbolic of the dramatic rebirth of the Zoo in the 1980s. He was the only surviving member of the original generation of gorillas who arrived at Zoo Atlanta with the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest in 1988.

He made zoological history in 2009, when he became the first gorilla in the world ever to participate in a voluntary blood pressure reading. Remarkably, he was geriatric even at the time of that accomplishment, at age 48. Gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of about 40.

Ozzie is survived by daughter Kuchi; sons Kekla, Stadi, and Charlie; granddaughter Lulu; great-granddaughter Andi, and great-grandson Floyd, all of whom live at Zoo Atlanta. His legacy also includes children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren living at other accredited zoos in the U.S. and Canada.

Ozzie’s incredible longevity is a testament to the care, expertise, and significant innovations of the Zoo’s Gorilla Care Team, which has become renowned for the care of geriatric gorillas. The team is frequently sought out and shadowed by professionals at other organizations for their advancements in positive reinforcement training and for their leadership in devising habitat and space accommodations for senior gorillas.

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over a 25-year period, the combined threats of poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade, habitat loss and emerging diseases have reduced western lowland gorilla populations by 60 percent, with declines of as much as 90 percent in some parts of their range in western Africa. Populations living within North American zoos are overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP), which seeks to maintain a self-sustaining, genetically diverse gorilla population for future generations.

Twenty-four gorillas have been born at Zoo Atlanta. Research by Zoo Atlanta staff has influenced industry-wide improvements in the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced understanding of gorilla biology, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior and cognition.

Zoo Atlanta supports the AZA Gorilla SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program, which focuses expertise within accredited zoos. For more than 20 years, the Zoo has supported its longtime partner in gorilla conservation, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, by providing pro-bono headquarters space, information technology support and financial resources. The Zoo and the Fossey Fund were among the organizations to host the first-ever World Gorilla Day in 2017.

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