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Ozzie, the world's oldest male gorilla, dies at 61

Ozzie was the oldest male gorilla in the world when he died on Tuesday at the zoo in Atlanta. He was believed to be 61 years old.
Zoo Atlanta
Ozzie was the oldest male gorilla in the world when he died on Tuesday at the zoo in Atlanta. He was believed to be 61 years old.

Ozzie, the world's oldest male gorilla and the third-oldest gorilla in the world, was found deceased on Tuesday, the zoo in Atlanta said. Ozzie was 61. Gorillas are considered geriatric once they're 40 years old.

While the cause of death is not officially known, Ozzie was experiencing symptoms such as decreased appetite, facial swelling and weakness over the last few days of his life. Zoo Atlanta, in partnership with the University of Georgia's veterinary medicine program, will perform a necropsy that will be shared with the public, they said in a statement.

"This is a devastating loss for Zoo Atlanta. While we knew this time would come someday, that inevitability does nothing to stem the deep sadness we feel at losing a legend," said Raymond B. King, president and CEO of the zoo.

"Ozzie's life's contributions are indelible, in the generations of individuals he leaves behind in the gorilla population and in the world's body of knowledge in the care of his species. Our thoughts are with his care team, who have lost a part of their lives and a part of their hearts."

Ozzie's death comes about two weeks after the death of another elderly gorilla, Choomba. She and Ozzie lived together at the zoo and, at 59, she was the fourth-oldest gorilla in the world when she died on Jan. 13.

Zoo Atlanta described Ozzie as a "living legend" in the history of the zoo; he was the last surviving member of the original generation of gorillas that arrived there in 1988. In 2009, Ozzie made history when he became the first gorilla in the world to participate in a voluntary blood pressure reading.

"No matter how many years we get with our animals, it's never long enough," Jodi Carrigan, associate curator of primates at the zoo, said in a Facebook post. "We made every minute count with Ozzie, and he will always live on in our hearts."

Ozzie, short for Ozoum, is survived by several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren living in zoos around the U.S. and Canada. Hisfavorite foods were oranges and cabbage, according to Zoo Atlanta's website.

His species, the western lowland gorilla, is critically endangered. Because of poaching and disease, their global population has declined more than 60% in the last two decades.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.