COLUMBUS, Ohio, Jan. 17 (UPI) — The world’s oldest captive gorilla died in her Ohio habitat early Tuesday, less than a month after she reached the milestone age of 60, the Columbus Zoo said.
Colo, who was diagnosed with cancer last fall, died in her sleep overnight, zookeepers said. It wasn’t immediately known whether the cancer contributed to her death.
“Colo touched the hearts of generations of people who came to see her,” Columbus Zoo President Tom Stalf said in a statement Tuesday. “She was an ambassador for gorillas and inspired people to learn more about the critically endangered species.”
Colo, a western gorilla, was born at the zoo on Dec. 22, 1956, and was the first gorilla born in captivity anywhere in the world. She was first named “Cuddles,” but the zoo soon thereafter held a naming contest for the animal. Colo, a conjunction of the words Columbus and Ohio, was ultimately the choice.
“She was the coolest animal I have ever worked with and caring for her was the highlight of my career,” assistant curator Audra Meinelt said.
Colo has been the world’s oldest captive gorilla since September 2008, when another 55-year-old western gorilla named Jenny died at her zoo in Dallas.
The Columbus Zoo now houses 16 endangered western lowland gorillas, including Colo’s daughter, grandson and three great grandchildren. Colo was also grandmother to the first set of gorilla twins to be born in captivity in 1983.
Western gorillas are listed as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with about 150,000-200,000 left in the world. Their average lifespan in the wild is about 35 years.