The Louisville Zoo in Kentucky announced the death of the world’s second-oldest gorilla, Helen, on Friday. The western lowland gorilla, affectionately called the “Grand Dame,” was 64, outliving the typical median life expectancy of female zoo gorillas, which is just 39 years.
“Helen enjoyed remarkably good health for most of her life, with only expected age-related arthritis and some periodontal disease,” the zoo said in a press release. “However, she recently developed increasing instability and tremors. This put her at greater risk of falling which impacted her day-to-day welfare.”
Because of her decline, her caregivers made the decision to euthanize her on Friday, according to the press release.
Helen was born in West Africa and moved to the Louisville Zoo in 2002 from a zoo in Chicago. She was a mother of three, a grandmother of 17, a great-grandmother of 21, a great-great-grandmother of 8, and finally, a great-great-great-grandmother of one, according to the press release. Her great-grandchild, Bengati, and great-great-grandchild, Kindi, also live at the zoo.
Throughout her time in Louisville, Helen “impressed Zoo fans with her big personality and longevity,” the press release said.
Tributes and heartfelt sentiments poured in from the zoo’s caregivers.
“Letting go of a special gorilla like Helen is very hard, but it is often the last, best thing we can do for our animals,” Louisville Zoo director Dan Maloney said. “Helen was one of our most beloved ambassadors. Her fascination with human babies delighted families for decades.”
Helen made connections with the humans she interacted with at the zoo, said Dr. Kristen Lukas, chair of the gorilla species survival plan with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“She touched the lives of many people over the years, including those who cared for her and those who just spent time visiting her at the Zoo,” Lukas said. “She was an independent spirit as well as being an integral member of her gorilla family, and her legacy lives on.”
The zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Zoli Gyimesi, said the gorilla “taught us much about gorillas and geriatric gorilla care.”
“Besides the Zoo’s staff that cared for her daily, she had her own dentist, cardiologist, gynecologist, neurologist, and orthopedist/pain manager,” Gyimesi said.
The oldest known gorilla is named Fatou. The 65-year-old lives at Zoo Berlin, according to the Louisville Zoo.