Brookfield Zookeepers Mourn Death of Gorilla

Chimp dies days before at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo

As Lincoln Park Zoo keepers are carefully monitoring their chimpanzee troop after Tuesday's unexpected death of a 9-year-old adolescent chimp  from illness, officials at Brookfield Zoo sadly announced the death of Alpha, a 48-year-old female western lowland gorilla.

She was euthanized Thursday due to kidney failure, attributed to her old age.

Alpha was one of the oldest female gorillas in the North American zoo population, according to a news release from the Chicago Zoological Society.  The 47-year-old gorilla, Beta, died at the zoo at the end of 2008.

Keepers at Brookfield Zoo had noticed that Alpha was not her usual feisty self in recent weeks.

Based on her behavior, it appeared she was in significant discomfort. On the evening of March 24, veterinarians—along with several outside medical consultants—performed a procedure during which it was discovered that Alpha was in the late stage of kidney failure. Despite continued medical treatment, her condition did not improve, and the staff and veterinarian team discussed the quality of life and level of future treatment options available before making the difficult decision to humanely euthanize Alpha.

Born in the wild, Alpha came to Brookfield in August 1963.

“Alpha was an important and cherished member of the gorilla group. She was the matriarch and mainstay of Brookfield Zoo’s gorilla group for more than 30 years," said Kim Smith, vice president of animal care for CZS.

Adding that the dynamics of the group have changed over the years, but Alpha continued to play an integral and important social role within the group.

She birthed seven babies between 1969 and 1991, and is survived by two of her offspring -- Jabari, a 24-year-old male at Philadelphia Zoo, and Kwisha, a 21-year-old male at Toledo Zoo -- as well as eight grandchildren, including Bana, age 14, who resides in Brookfield Zoo's Tropic World along with one of Alpha’s eight great-grandchildren, Nadaya, 8.
“Alpha’s feisty personality mellowed somewhat in her older years, but she was always able to stand up for herself within the group,” said Craig Demitros, who was one of Alpha’s keepers for more than 20 years before becoming associate curator at the zoo in 2008. “She will be missed by all of us who have cared for her over the years, as well as the millions of guests who had the opportunity to see her during their visits to the zoo.”
In what gorilla caregivers agreed was a very tender and emotional moment, members of the gorilla group were given access to Alpha's body after she died. Some of the female gorillas went to Alpha to smell and touch her. Ramar, the group’s silverback male, or leader, sat close to Alpha and appeared very protective and watchful as each of the others approached her during the approximately 20-minute gathering.

Caregivers said the gathering was therapeutic for the gorillas and keepers alike, according to the release.

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