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.