After years of failing health, Alvila the first gorilla born at the San Diego Zoo died late last week at the age of 45.
The Western lowland gorilla was euthanized during the morning hours on September 30 because zoo veterinarians could no longer control her pain with medication.
Zoo spokeswoman Christina Simmons said Alvila had suffered from severe osteoarthritis in her knees for the past 20 years. The gorilla also had spinal problems that required surgery in 2002.
The L.A. Times reported that in “recent weeks, Alvila had rarely left a bedroom area,” from the pain and stiffness she endured. Other gorillas at the zoo stayed by her side and even brought food to her.
Alvila made national headlines on June 3, 1965 as the first gorilla born at the zoo. Her birth was particularly important because Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered. She quickly became a favorite animal for zoo visitors to see.
Her parents, Albert and Vila, were born in Africa. Vila still lives at the zoo and is the third oldest gorilla in North America at the age of 53.
Alvila and her late mate, Memba had four biological offspring. Later in her life Alvila adopted and raised another baby gorilla named, Imani after she was abandoned by her birth mother.
Overall Alvila was seen by the other gorillas as the primary maternal role model because of her kindness as a mother, aunt and grandmother. The L.A. Times said she enjoyed watching the younger gorillas “engaging in rough-and-tumble play.”
Zoo officials allowed the 11 remaining gorillas, including Alvila’s mother, to visit her body one last time after she died. It helped them realize that she was gone.
Alvila lived most of her life at the San Diego Zoo, but also spent time at zoos in Fresno and Philadelphia. She and Memba were sent to the Philadelphia Zoo while their habitat in San Diego was being remodeled. The two were flown in a private jet owned by the San Diego Padres.
Alvila served an important role in her troop at the San Diego Zoo. Officials say her death will have a major effect on the remaining gorillas.
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