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Oldest Animal Born At Cincinnati Zoo Dies

samantha gorilla cincinnati zoo
Courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Just months after celebrating her 50th birthday, the oldest animal born at the Cincinnati Zoo has died. The zoo says a gorilla named "Samantha" was euthanized Sunday morning.

"We have been treating Samantha's aging heart for over a year, which has allowed her to enjoy a great quality of life," says Ron Evans, curator of primates. "We recognized recently that medications just could not keep up with her advancing condition and had to make the tough decision. Fortunately, she did not appear to be suffering as much as simply losing energy and fading away towards the end with her family around her."

Samantha exceeded her life expectancy by more than 10 years, and was the sixth oldest gorilla in North America. The zoo credits its gorilla team and "excellent veterinary care" in part for her long life. The zoo's behind-the-scenes facilities are designed for geriatric animals, it says, including winding staircases, handholds, and the ability for aging gorillas to live all on one level.

"I have been privileged to be part of Samantha's world for 35 of her 50 years," Evans eulogizes. "She is an inspirational individual and a great example of why we work as hard as we do around here. She was our boss. The keepers who care for her are also inspirational and even during these challenging days, had laser focus on her well-being and went out of their way to see her final days through with expert care and deep compassion. They are my heroes.

"Right now, it is impossible to imagine that Samantha won't be around anymore, but we are very lucky we have her amazing 50-year legacy to dwell on and celebrate."

In January, the "Grand Ol' Lady" of the Cincinnati Zoo was honored with a birthday cake made of yogurt, fruit and "nutritionally complete primate chow," with a few surprises hidden in the cake base.

samantha gorilla cincinnati zoo
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Samantha noshes on a heart-shaped slice of watermelon from her 50th birthday celebration in January 2020.

About Samantha

Samantha was raised with another gorilla named Sam. They were born 12 days apart in 1970 and were hand-raised with help from staff at Good Samaritan Hospital, from which both their names were derived. Not much was known about how to rear baby gorillas, and the zoo's former Ape House wasn't conducive to a mother gorilla raising her own young, so the pair spent their first weeks at Good Sam.

gorilla babies
Credit Courtesy of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Born 12 days apart, Sam and Samantha were named after Good Samaritan Hospital where they spent their first weeks receiving care from nurses and doctors.

The zoo described Samantha as "a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, matriarch, role model, record setter, and an inspirational ambassador." She lived with more than 40 other gorillas during her years at the zoo, gave birth to six babies, and has descendants across North America. Samantha's parents, "King Tut" and "Penelope," were considered two of Cincinnati's "founder" gorillas.

When Samantha was born in 1970, gorillas lived indoors year-round in the Ape House. In 1978 she moved into Gorilla World, the first-ever naturalist outdoor habitat.

Fifty gorillas have been born at the Cincinnati Zoo.