Shamba, the oldest gorilla at Zoo Atlanta and one of the oldest gorillas in the United States, died Friday.
Zoo personnel reported that Shamba was discovered unresponsive by her care team, and the decision was made to euthanize her.
She was 58.
“Shamba was an extraordinary individual, beloved by her care team and the Zoo Atlanta family, and her passing is very difficult, especially for those who knew her best and interacted with her daily,” said Hayley Murphy, vice president of animal divisions.
Shamba was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother and a great-great grandmother.
Western lowland gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of about 35, and Shamba was part of a group of super-senior gorillas. She and her female counterpart, 54-year-old Choomba, were fondly referred to as the “Golden Girls” by zoo staff.
Their male companion, 56-year-old Ozzie, is the oldest living male gorilla in the world. Choomba and Ozzie are both behaving normally following the loss of their group member, according to Zoo Atlanta.
Along with Choomba, Ozzie and the late Willie B., Shamba was one of the earliest members of what is today one of the largest zoological populations of western lowland gorillas in North America.
Willie B. was the first, and arrived at Atlanta’s zoological garden in 1961, after being captured in the wild. Shamba, Choomba and Ozzie arrived at the zoo in the 1980s. They were part of the opening of the Ford African Rain Forest, when a failing zoo was turned around through enormous investment and public support, and became the nationally-respected Zoo Atlanta.
When Willie B died in 2000 more than 8,000 people came to his memorial service.
Earlier this summer the Zoo lost Chantek, an orangutan trained to use sign language.
Shamba’s three surviving children include Taz, the silverback of the zoo’s large family group. She has more than 30 descendants, in Atlanta and at zoos around the country.
The zoo serves as the headquarters of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, providing pro-bono space and resources to further the Fossey Fund’s work to protect gorillas and their habitats in Africa.
The critically endangered species has been reduced by as much as 60 percent over the last 25 years, from poaching, illegal hunting, habitat loss and new diseases.
A necropsy on Shamba will be performed at the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and a cause of death should be determined in several weeks