Matriarch of Cincinnati Zoo’s Gorillas Celebrates 50th Birthday Today

Posted January 31, 2020

CINCINNATI (January 31, 2020) – Samantha, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s oldest mammal and the matriarch of its gorillas, is 50 years old today! To celebrate, the gorilla team presented her with a gorilla-sized cake made with healthy diet items and special enrichment foods including yogurt, fruit and nutritionally complete primate chow. Plus, the cake base had a few additional surprises hidden inside. In addition to the cake, the zoo’s horticulture and commissary teams provided Samantha and the gorillas with a forest full of their favorite plant snack items like forsythia, banana leaves, fiscus, bamboo as well as fresh melons.  Samantha shared this fantastic feast with the rest of her group, including her adopted daughter, 4-year-old Elle and great granddaughter, 7-year-old Gladys.

“Samantha is the longest-lived animal ever born at the Cincinnati Zoo,” said Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of primates Ron Evans. “No other single animal has connected with people for a 50-year period here. Her contribution to the Zoo’s history is significant. She’s a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, matriarch, role model, record setter, and an inspirational ambassador. We have tried to capture the breadth and depth of her amazing life through a series of Zoo Facebook posts over the past 50 days as well as a new interpretive sign at Gorilla World commemorating her many milestones.”

Read more about her history in this blog written by Evans in 2015 to mark her 45th birthday.

Gorilla, and all animal, care has evolved during the past five decades, and Samantha has been here to experience changes in diet, habitat design, enrichment, positive reinforcement training and approach to raising young. She and another gorilla, Sam, were born about a week apart and were hand raised with the assistance of Good Samaritan Hospital. By the time she became a mom, advancements in care paved the way for a more conducive atmosphere to encourage mother rearing, critical to the development of highly social and complex animals like gorillas.

“She is the best mother gorilla in the history of the Zoo and has given birth to six gorillas,” said Evans.  “In addition to that, she has pitched in to help with other family members’ youngsters and is currently the surrogate mom for our youngest gorilla. She has lived with more than 40 individual gorillas at the Cincinnati Zoo and has a grand extended gorilla family throughout North America. She is currently the 6th oldest of all the 360+ gorillas in North America, a real tribute to the scores of people who have enjoyed the privilege to travel on this 50-year journey with her.”

Her current family group includes silverback Jomo, Gladys and her surrogate mom, Mlinzi (Samantha’s niece), 5-year-old Mondika, and Elle, who is named after the roman numeral L because she is the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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