Ramar, a western lowland gorilla who was the first gorilla at the N.C. Zoo and a popular resident of the park for 20 years, has died at a zoo in Chicago.
Ramar turned 50 in January, celebrating with a frozen cake filled with bananas, apples, pineapples and raisins at the Brookfield Zoo. He had been suffering from degenerative arthritis in his knees and, according to the zoo, had heart disease and had recently stopped eating. An examination found a blockage in his bowels, a common problem with geriatric patients.
In a tweet, the Brookfield Zoo said Ramar was euthanized Thursday, a difficult decision based on Ramar's quality of life and comfort.
“For several years now, we have been able to intervene and manage Ramar’s chronic conditions that have allowed him to live comfortably with little to no pain,” said Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal care for the Chicago Zoological Society. “Even though the advancement of veterinary medicine in professional care has allowed animals in zoos to live longer than their wild counterparts, there comes a time, like in Ramar’s case, that we aren’t able to stop the progression of age-related ailments."
Ramar was brought to the U.S. in 1969 after being orphaned in the wild in Africa and raised by a human family to the age of 6. He came to the North Carolina Zoo in 1974, when the park was still being built. He lived there for 20 years and was considered one of the zoo’s most charismatic animals. He later spent time at zoos in Philadelphia and Miami.
Many visitors to the N.C. Zoo over the years remember Ramar as a bit of a prankster. He loved to run up to the window of his enclosure and slap it with his open palm, making a loud noise. It would both startle — and delight — visitors on the other side.
He moved to the Brookfield Zoo in 1998 as part of a breeding program, and zoo officials say he was the dominant male gorilla there — its silverback. He sired three offspring while at Brookfield: two sons and a daughter.
According to the zoo, Ramar had gone into “semiretirement,” moving into a different habitat when he was challenged by his 10-year-old son, a progression that would have happened in the wild as well, the park said.
When he died, Ramar was the oldest animal at Brookfield Zoo and the second-oldest western lowland gorilla in an accredited zoo in North America. In zoos, the median life expectancy for gorillas is 32 years.
The N.C. Zoo tweeted that it was sad to hear of Ramar’s death.