Vila, the gorilla, dead at age 60

Vila at her 58th birthday party/San Diego Zoo

One of the world’s oldest gorillas died Thursday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Vila was the matriarch of five generations and served as a surrogate mother for several hand-raised western lowland gorillas, according to the zoo. She celebrated her 60th birthday in October, becoming the world’s second oldest gorilla.

“Vila touched many people throughout her lifetime,” said Randy Rieches, curator of mammals at the park. “She will be missed by zoo members, guests, volunteers and staff.”

Vila was believed to have been born in the Congo in October 1957. She was hand-raised at the San Diego Zoo and later moved to the Safari Park. In recent years, she was under veterinary care due to her old age. The average life span of a gorilla in the wild is 35 to 40 years.

Vila died surrounded by members of her family, zoo officials said. Last year, she had undergone a medical treatment for fluid retention in her face and limbs but eventually recovered from that.

The procedure included a full diagnostic exam to determine the cause of the fluid accumulation, which officials at the time said could have led to a life-threatening condition. Doctors also were concerned about the effects of anesthesia on the aging animal but they said then that the procedure went well.

Before coming to the United States, Vila had been housed at the Brazzaville Zoo in the Congo where the San Diego Zoo’s then assistant managing director, Charles Shaw, discovered the infant during an around-the-world scouting trip for animals. “We got her at a great bargain,” he said at the time.

At age 13, Vila gave zoo personnel a scare after they discovered she had escaped from her enclosure. The resident veterinarian was able to rescue her and bring her back to her enclosure after having to shoot her with a tranquilizer-dart pistol, The San Diego Union reported at the time.

Vila is the matriarch of five generations, and she served as a surrogate mother for several hand-raised western lowland gorillas during her lifetime. There are nine other gorillas at Safari Park, including young Leslie, who was born in 2016 to mom Kokomo and dad Winston.

The only other western lowland gorillas closest in age to Vila are at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas and the Berlin Zoo in Germany. Both are estimated to have been born in 1957.

Gorillas are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Threats to the species include people hunting the animals for food and loss of habitat due to logging and mining.

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