World’s second oldest gorilla Helen, aged 64, says Louisville Zoo

The Louisville Zoo in Kentucky announced the death of Helen, the world’s second oldest gorilla, on Friday. The western lowland gorilla, affectionately referred to as the “Grand Dame”, lived to be 64 years old, surpassing the typical average life expectancy of a female zoo gorilla, which is just 39 years.

“Helen enjoyed remarkably good health for most of her life, with only expected age-related arthritis and some periodontal disease,” the zoo said in a press release. “However, she recently developed increased instability and tremors. This put her at greater risk of falls which affected her day-to-day well-being.”

Because of her decline, her caregivers decided to euthanize her on Friday, according to the press release.

Helen was born in West Africa and moved from a Chicago zoo to the Louisville Zoo in 2002. According to the press release, she was the mother of three children, the grandmother of 17, the great-grandmother of 21, the great-grandmother of 8 and finally the great-grandmother of one. His great-grandson, Bengati, and great-grandson, Kindi, also live at the zoo.

Throughout her time in Louisville, Helen “impressed zoo fans with her big personality and longevity,” the press release states.

Tributes and heartfelt sentiments poured in from the caretakers of the zoo.

“It’s very hard to give up a special gorilla like Helen, but it’s often the last, best thing we can do for our animals,” said Dan Maloney, director of the Louisville Zoo. “Helen was one of our most beloved ambassadors. Her fascination with human babies delighted families for decades.”

Dr. Kristen Lucas, president of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said Helen bonded with the humans she interacted with at the zoo.

“She touched the lives of many people over the years, including those who cared for her and spent time visiting her at the zoo,” Lucas said. “She was a free spirit as well as an integral member of her gorilla family, and her legacy lives on.”

Zoo veterinarian Dr. Jolie Giemsey said the gorillas “taught us a lot about gorillas and geriatric gorilla care.”

“In addition to the zoo staff who took care of her daily, she had her own dentist, cardiologist, gynecologist, neurologist and orthopedist/pain manager,” Jimici said.

The oldest known gorilla is named Fatou. According to the Louisville Zoo, the 65-year-old zoo lives in Berlin.

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