Since the day she was born, Colo has been making history.
In 1956, at the Columbus Zoo, she became the first gorilla in the world to be born in human care. In 2012, when she turned 56, she broke the record for longest living gorilla. Now, as Colo is about to turn 59, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is inviting the public to help celebrate another miraculous birthday — from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22.
“We embrace every single birthday we have with her,” said Audra Meinelt, assistant curator of the Congo Expedition region. “It’s not yet the big 6-0, but it’s the big 5-9! Because she is so old, every single day with her, not just her birthday, is a gift. We are lucky for every moment we get to spend with her.”
The global Internet community is invited to join the celebration by tuning into a live broadcast. More than 4,000 people watched last year’s broadcast, with audiences representing all 50 United States, 31 countries and five continents. Most viewers were in the U.S. (half of the sessions were watched by people in Ohio), followed by Czech Republic, Canada, United Kingdom and Germany, respectively.
Online viewers and in-park visitors will see Colo’s habitat draped with colorful construction paper chains and filled with special surprises. Colo will receive a cake, but the matriarch shows the most interest opening presents of enrichment toys and her favorite treats, such as clementines and tomatoes.
The visitors are also welcome to enjoy cake, donated by Kroger, while supplies last.
Colo has lived decades beyond the median life expectancy for female gorillas living in a zoo, which is about 37 years. Despite her record-breaking age, Colo is not showing signs of slowing down.
“She is amazing because she is the oldest gorilla in a zoo and doesn’t have significant health problems,” Meinelt said. “Her biggest ailment is arthritis. She hasn’t had any noticeable health changes in the last year. Her health has been fantastic.”
Her cousins in the wild often live shorter lives, as many are killed before they reach old age. Severely threatened by commercial hunting and the Ebola virus, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists the Western gorilla as a critically endangered species, according to zoo officials. Hunting is especially damaging to gorilla populations due to the species’ relatively low reproductive rates.
Beginning at the Columbus Zoo, Colo’s family tree has since branched to four generations. Her progeny includes three children, 16 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
“Colo is an impressive gorilla, not just for her historic birth or her miraculous longevity, but in the way she resonates with nearly every visitor who meets her,” said Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo. “Our mission at the Columbus Zoo is to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife, and you can see that connection so clearly with Colo. We are so happy to celebrate Colo’s life with central Ohio and fans from around the world.”
For more information about Colo’s party, visit www.ColumbusZoo.org.
Information for this story was provided by the Columbus Zoo in Powell.