One of the Oklahoma City Zoo's gorillas died Tuesday morning, having far surpassed a typical life expectancy.
Zoo officials said the body of Kathy, a 50-year-old lowland gorilla, was found in her favorite hammock in the gorilla day room at the Great EscApe exhibit. A necropsy is being conducted, but her death is believed to be from natural causes.
“She died peacefully in her sleep,” zoo veterinarian Jennifer D'Agostino said. “She has been a very healthy gorilla. She was eating and socializing with the rest of her troop on Monday. I think what we'll find was that her death was due to age-related issues.”
Kathy arrived in Oklahoma City from the Philadelphia Zoo in December 1971, when she was 9. During her time at the zoo she gave birth to eight gorillas, including son George in 2004. George is still at the zoo.
The median life expectancy for gorillas is about 35 years, and often less in the wild. D'Agostino said Kathy's advanced age is a credit to genetics and advancements in care for gorillas including periodic heart exams. One of her only health related issues during her lifetime was the loss of an eye during a fight with another gorilla several years ago.
“She was a very hearty gorilla throughout her life,” D'Agostino said.
Deputy director Alan Varsik said Kathy was a favorite among staff members.
“Kathy was considered the matriarch of her troop,” Varsik said. “She had a gentle and caring nature, and we will greatly miss her.”
Kathy was one of the first animals to benefit from the 1991 sales tax that increased funding for the zoo. One of the first large projects from that funding was the zoo's ape facility.
D'Agostino said Kathy has children and grandchildren, and perhaps great grandchildren at other zoos across the country. Motherhood came easily for her.
“She was a very charismatic animal,” D'Agostino said. “She was the leader of her group and a great mom. She had a lot of offspring and she taught younger females how to be good moms. That's one of the ways her impact on her species will live on.”
Kathy had George with Bom Bom, a male gorilla who died in June 2012 from a heart ailment. Before he died, Bom Bom also sired a baby gorilla that was born at the zoo on Valentine's Day.
Zoo spokeswoman Tara Henson said the zoo had received many calls, emails and text messages from former staffers by Tuesday afternoon.
“She had a tremendous impact on those who work here, and on those who have either retired or gone on to other zoos,” Henson said. “She had been here a very long time and many people had a role in caring for her.”