Columbus Zoo staff and volunteers are mourning the loss of Pongi (pon-JEE), a female western lowland gorilla, who died today.
Pongi never fully recovered after receiving an extensive examination this morning due to concerns about physical symptoms that included lethargy, trembling, elevated respirations and a droopy lip. The procedure was performed by Columbus Zoo veterinarians and human health care specialists including a cardiologist.
“There was nothing abnormal in the preliminary examination including cardiac ultrasound,” said Dr. Randy Junge, DVM and Vice President of Animal Health. “Unfortunately she arrested during recovery and extensive efforts to resuscitate were unsuccessful.”
A necropsy (animal autopsy) is being performed.
Pongi was estimated to be 49 years of age. The median life expectancy for gorillas (assuming the individual survives the first year of life, a particularly risky time for most mammals) is approximately 37 years.
“Pongi has been a member of the Columbus Zoo family since 1985,” said Columbus Zoo President and CEO Tom Stalf. “During that time she had three offspring and in her post-reproductive years became surrogate mother to three more babies. She will be missed by her gorilla and human families, including the central Ohio residents who have spent so much time with her and the other gorillas at the Zoo.”
Pongi was one of several gorillas taught by animal care staff utilizing positive reinforcement to come when asked to the mesh surrounding her habitat. She accepted babies other than her own and provided them with maternal care while also bringing the infants to the mesh so that they could be bottle-fed by gorilla keepers. At the time of her death she was the surrogate mom to eight-month-old Kamoli (kam-AH-lee).
“Pongi was a supremely confident gorilla. She identified what she wanted and made it happen,” said Assistant Curator Audra Meinelt. “She loved and cared for Kamoli and he is now fully integrated into a fantastic group of gorillas including a silverback, Mac, that has served as a surrogate male in the past.”
There are now 15 gorillas at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and approximately 350 gorillas in North American zoos. There have been 31 gorillas born at the Columbus Zoo including the birth of Colo in Dec. 1956. Colo was the first gorilla born in human care and holds the record for longevity.
Zoo staff are requesting memories of Pongi be posted on the Zoo’s Facebook page.
Home to more than 10,000 animals representing over 575 species from around the globe, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium leads and inspires by connecting people and wildlife. The Zoo complex is a recreational and education destination that includes the 22-acre Zoombezi Bay water park and 18-hole Safari Golf Course. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also operates the Wilds, a 10,000-acre conservation center and safari park located in southeastern Ohio. It is a regional attraction with global impact; contributing more than $1 million annually to support over 70 conservation projects worldwide. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Columbus Zoo has earned Charity Navigator’s prestigious 4-star rating.