SALT LAKE CITY – Staff at Hogle Zoo and several gorillas are mourning the recent death of a silverback gorilla named Tino who had been at the zoo for nearly 30 years, and zookeepers said they made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the gorilla due to declining health and signs of possible dementia.
Abby Green does great ape primary relief at the zoo, and she said Tino has been in Salt Lake City since coming from a zoo in Milwaukee in 1986.
“We had a big loss in the ape building,” Green said. “Two days ago, we lost one of our male silverbacks, Tino, after struggling with declining health for the past few months. It was a really hard decision, difficult decision for the keepers and veterinarian staff that we had to euthanize him.”
Green said the staff is mourning Tino’s death, and so are the gorillas who shared his enclosure. There are three Western Lowland gorillas remaining, one male and two females.
“They are [mourning],” Green said. “They’ve been doing location calling at night, to kind of, because they can smell him [but] they don’t see his presence anymore, trying to find where he is. They’re animals. They’re complex. They’re amazing creatures, so they definitely know the loss. They can feel it in the building, they can feel it within the keepers, so it’s a loss all around. It’s a huge loss.”
The relationship between zoo staff and their charges is often more than that experienced with pets, and Green said the loss is something that is hard to bear but that they will move on as they work to provide enrichment and care to the other animals.
“It’s hard, it’s like losing, kind of, a family member,” Green said. “You dedicate your life to these animals, and you work with them every day. You see their ups, you see their downs, and, losing one: it’s tough.”
According to a press release from Hogle Zoo, Tino was 42 years old—which is approximately the equivalent of a human living to be 90. The release states Tino had declining strength and a lack of comfort and a lesser response to pain medications.
"We felt at his age, he had lived a good, long life and with the multiple problems that we didn't feel we could cure, we felt euthanasia was the best step," Dr. Nancy Carpenter stated in a press release.
The release states zookeepers also believed Tino might have dementia, though they said that was based on observation rather than testing.
“We look at their normal behaviors and compare it to what they are exhibiting on that day at specific times,” Green said. “So Tino did show some signs of confusion. In places that he normally was, he showed signs of confusion--kind of lost. Just not normal gorilla behavior, so that was a sign obviously that his health was declining.”
Green said it is not clear if, or when, their zoo will receive another male gorilla. She said they work with the AZA gorilla Species Survival Plan on such matters.
“We do whatever’s best for the species and their survival,” Green said.
The release states Tino will continue to be an ambassador for his endangered species by participating in the Great Ape Heart Project and the Great Ape Neuroscience Project and by making contributions to Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum in Provo.
Green said they encourage people to come out and see the gorillas, like the male Husani, and the other animals still at the zoo.
“Oh, 100 percent,” she said. “I would encourage everybody to come out and see our gorilla girls, I encourage them to see Husani, it’s always great to see who we have, and all these guys thriving. It brings happiness.”
She added that visitors can recycle old cell phones at the zoo's guest services area to assist efforts to help the gorilla species.