The Zoo Atlanta family is saddened to announce the passing of Shamba, a 58-year-old female western lowland gorilla. Shamba, the oldest gorilla at Zoo Atlanta and one of the oldest gorillas in the world, was found unresponsive by her care team on October 27, 2017. Following a preliminary examination that revealed advanced age-related complications, the Animal Care and Veterinary Teams made the difficult decision to euthanize her rather than jeopardize her quality of life.
“Shamba was an extraordinary individual, beloved by her care team and the Zoo Atlanta family, and her passing is very difficult, especially for those who knew her best and interacted with her daily,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Vice President of Animal Divisions. “She leaves an incredible legacy behind, not just as a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great grandmother, but as an original member of what is today an award-winning gorilla program because of individuals like her.”
Western lowland gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of about 35, and Shamba was one of a group of three very special senior gorillas at Zoo Atlanta. Shamba and her female counterpart, 54-year-old Choomba, were fondly referred to as the “Golden Girls” by their Zoo family. Their male companion, 56-year-old Ozzie, is the oldest living male gorilla in the world. Choomba and Ozzie are both behaving normally following the loss of their group member.
Along with Choomba, Ozzie and the late Willie B., Shamba was one of the founding members of what is today one of the largest zoological populations of western lowland gorillas in North America. Shamba, Choomba and Ozzie arrived at the Zoo in the 1980s at the time of the opening of the landmark Ford African Rain Forest. Shamba’s three surviving children include Taz, the silverback of the Zoo’s large family group. She has more than 30 descendants, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, living at Zoo Atlanta and at accredited zoos around the U.S.
In her nearly three decades at the Zoo, Shamba was not only one of the founders of the Zoo Atlanta gorilla program, but also an ambassador for her species, which is now 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-three 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 is the headquarters of the Great Ape Heart Project, the world’s first effort to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac diseases across all four great ape taxa: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos.
The Zoo serves as the headquarters of its longtime partner in gorilla conservation, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, providing pro-bono space and resources to further the Fossey Fund’s work to protect gorillas and their habitats in Africa. Zoo Atlanta is also a Platinum Supporter of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) Conservation Initiative.
A necropsy 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. Preliminary results should be available in several weeks.
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About the gorilla program at Zoo Atlanta
The arrival of Zoo Atlanta’s most famous great ape resident, the late Willie B., in 1961, evolved into what is today a nationally-recognized program for the care and behavioral study of critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Twenty-three gorillas have been born at Zoo Atlanta since the opening of the landmark Ford African Rain Forest in 1988, with all infants having been mother-reared or reared by a gorilla surrogate. In 2011, the 50th anniversary year of its gorilla program, Zoo Atlanta earned the distinguished Edward H. Bean Award for Significant Achievement from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for its long-term commitment to the species. Research published by Zoo Atlanta staff has resulted in more than 100 scientific papers on gorilla behavior, biology, reproduction and care. Zoo Atlanta is the headquarters of the Great Ape Heart Project, the world’s first coordinated effort to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four great ape taxa. Zoo Atlanta’s primary partner in gorilla conservation, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, is headquartered at Zoo Atlanta and protects and supports gorillas and their habitats in Africa.
About Zoo Atlanta
Viewed as one of the finest zoological institutions in the U.S. and a proud accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Zoo Atlanta has a mission to inspire value and preservation of wildlife through a unique mix of education and outdoor family experiences. From well-known native wildlife to critically endangered species on the brink of extinction, the Zoo offers memorable close encounters with more than 1,000 animals from around the world. Zoo highlights include giant pandas, including Ya Lun and Xi Lun, a set of twins born to Lun Lun on September 3, 2016; North America’s largest zoological population of great apes; and a global center of excellence for the care and study of reptiles and amphibians. Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, featuring more than 70 species in a 111,000 square-foot complex, is the world’s first LEED Gold-certified reptile and amphibian exhibit. The Zoo’s newest experience, Treetop Trail presented by Kaiser Permanente, opened in March 2017. Up-close-and-personal animal experiences include behind-the-scenes Wild Encounters with African elephants, African lions, Aldabra giant tortoises, giant pandas and warthogs. Zoo Atlanta is open year-round with the exceptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Keeper talks, interactive wildlife presentations, education programs and special events run year-round. For more information, visit zooatlanta.org.