Pete, a great-great grandfather and Woodland Park Zoo's oldest gorilla, dies at 50

SEATTLE — Pete, Woodland Park Zoo’s beloved western lowland gorilla, died Sunday at 50 years old.

According to a news release form the zoo, the male ape was one of the oldest male gorillas in North America and the great-grandfather of the zoo’s youngest gorilla, Yola.

The geriatric gorilla had been showing signs of slowing down.

“His appetite and activity level were low. He was under 24-hour close observation when he passed away in the presence of a gorilla keeper,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo. “We had plans to further evaluate him today.”

As a standard procedure, the zoo’s animal health team will perform a necropsy (an animal autopsy) and the cause of death will be pending final pathology tests in several weeks.

The median life expectancy for male western lowland gorillas is 32 years old, although gorillas in zoos can live in to their 40s and 50s.

Pete had lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 1969. He and Nina were the foundation of the zoo’s gorilla program and were lifetime residents and companions; the pair produced four offspring together, which have played an important role in producing future generations for the conservation breeding program for gorillas in North American zoos.

Pete, who also sired a fifth offspring with another female, had 19 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, including the zoo’s youngest gorilla, Yola who turns 3 in a few weeks, and one great-great-grandchild. Nina passed away in 2015 due to age-related health issues.

“Pete was an excellent companion, father and leader of his group. He was known by his keepers as the ‘gentleman of gorillas.’ Pete was an ageless soul who embodied kindness, courage, strength, patience and leadership,” said Ramirez. “This is a very difficult time for our zoo family but we are comforted by the fact his legacy lives on through his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchild.”

Two other gorilla groups are currently in Woodland Park Zoo’s care: 22-year-old female Nadiri, 18-year-old male Kwame, 17-year-old female Akenji, 11-year-old female Uzumma and 2-year-old female Yola; and 39-year-old male Vip and 33-year-old female Jumoke.

The western lowland gorilla lives in seven countries across west equatorial Africa: southeast Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Angola and Equatorial Guinea. All gorillas are endangered; the western lowland gorilla is critically endangered. The estimated population of western lowland gorillas in the wild is about 100,000.

There are four primary reasons gorillas are endangered. One is habitat destruction caused by logging, mining, and slash and burn agriculture. Poaching for the bushmeat trade, facilitated by logging, has become an immediate threat to the western lowland gorilla population, particularly in Cameroon. Additionally, infectious diseases such as the Ebola virus have recently become a great threat, killing many gorillas; and climate change is causing the drying of the region, creating negative impacts on forest ecology and species.

Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation efforts for the western lowland gorilla through the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study.

To help support this important project, drop off used handheld electronics (cell phones, MP3 players, handheld games, e-readers, digital still and video cameras, laptops, GPS, portable hard drives, etc.) at the zoo. The handheld electronics are turned over to ECO-CELL, which operates a strict NO LANDFILL program and reimburses organizations.

ECO-CELL reuses mineral ore from these devices to reduce the demand for unsustainable coltan mining in the Congo that destroys habitat for critically endangered gorillas. The zoo will direct funds from ECO-CELL toward the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Study and other African conservation projects.