Longest-Lived Cincinnati Zoo Animal Passes Away at Age 50

Posted March 30, 2020

Zoo staff mourning loss of beloved gorilla Samantha

CINCINNATI (March 30, 2020) – Samantha, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s oldest mammal and matriar ch of its gorillas, was humanely euthanized yesterday morning.   Born at the Zoo 50 years ago, she exceeded the life expectancy for her species by more than a decade and was in good health for most of her long life.  Recently, however, it became apparent that age-related health issues were affecting her quality of life.

            “Maintaining special in-depth wellbeing observations on geriatric animals is standard practice at the Cincinnati Zoo. We have been treating Samantha’s aging heart for over a year, which has allowed her to enjoy a great quality of life,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of primates Ron Evans. “We recognized recently that medications just could not keep up with her advancing condition and had to make the tough decision. Fortunately, she did not appear to be suffering as much as simply losing energy and fading away towards the end with her family around her. The gorilla team’s attentions have now shifted fully to her foster daughter, Elle, who is doing well with her father, Jomo, and sister, Mona.” 

           Samantha was the 6th oldest of all the 360+  individuals in the North American gorilla population, due in no small part to the dedicated gorilla team and the excellent veterinary care that she received at the Zoo.  Her longevity came with the same kind of occasional aches and stiff joints that older humans experience. To accommodate geriatric individuals, the dynamic two-story behind-the-scenes bedroom/ playroom areas of Gorilla World were designed with winding staircases, handholds and the option of one-story living for the gorillas, which benefitted Samantha greatly during her later years.  

“I have been privileged to be part of Samantha’s world for 35 of her 50 years,” said Evans. “She is an inspirational individual and a great example of why we work as hard as we do around here. She was our boss. The keepers who care for her are also inspirational and even during these challenging days, had laser focus on her wellbeing and went out of their way to see her final days through with expert care and deep compassion.  They are my heroes.   Right now, it is impossible to imagine that Samantha won’t be around anymore, but we are very lucky we have her amazing 50-year legacy to dwell on and celebrate.”

            The Zoo recently paid tribute to the grand old lady with a 50th birthday celebration that included a social media series that recognized her significant contributions to its history and a big party at Gorilla World. Guests, keepers, and staff looked on as the mother, grandmother, great grandmother, foster mother, record setter, matriarch, and role model, shared a cake made of her favorite foods with the rest of her family.

            Samantha and another gorilla, Sam, were born about a week apart and were the first two gorilla babies born and raised at the Cincinnati Zoo. They were hand raised with the assistance of Good Samaritan Hospital, hence the names Sam and Samantha. They were huge celebrities featured in dozens of articles, photos, postcards and fanfare. Read more about her history in this blog written by Evans in 2015 to mark her 45th birthday.

“Gorilla care and subsequent mother rearing has evolved tremendously during the past five decades,” said Evans. “Today it is rare to hand-raise a baby gorilla due to advancements in husbandry techniques, behavior understanding and management, vet care and special individuals like Samantha who were our partners along the way.”

Living with other gorillas is critical to the development of these highly social and complex animals. She lived with more than 40 individual gorillas during her 50 years and has a grand extended gorilla family throughout North America.

“She has also connected with countless zoo guests, followers and personnel over those 50 years,” said Evans. “People share Samantha memories with us all the time, and we love listening to every one.  Like I said, she was an inspirational individual.”

The Cincinnati Zoo has been caring for gorillas since 1931 and has made significant contributions to gorilla populations in Zoos across the country.  There are about 765 gorillas in zoos worldwide including approximately 360 that are managed by the Gorilla SSP. Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild, with fewer than 175,000 individuals. Due primarily to habitat destruction caused by logging, mineral mining and agricultural expansion, wild gorilla numbers continue to shrink.  The bushmeat trade – the killing of wild animals to be used as human food – is also a major threat to the western lowland gorilla population throughout the Central African rainforests.  More than 1,000 gorillas are illegally poached for the bushmeat trade each year.

The Cincinnati Zoo supports wild gorilla conservation efforts like the Nouabalé-Ndoki Project in the Republic of Congo.  This project includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running research being done with wild western lowland gorillas.  Through research, local education programs, publications and documentaries, the Mbeli Bai Study and other gorilla related efforts there are raising international awareness for gorillas and their struggle for survival. For more information, visit www.cincinnatizoo.org.