The gorilla at the center of a dispute between the Cincinnati Zoo and the California-based Gorilla Foundation is back in the Queen City. Ndume is a 37-year-old silverback.
"We are thrilled that Ndume is finally here," Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard says in a statement released Friday. "We've been preparing for his arrival for many months and are ready to offer him an environment, schedule and social status that work for him."
The zoo has been trying to get Ndume back since last October. At that time, the zoo filed a federal suit against The Gorilla Foundation after it refused to return Ndume, who was loaned to it in 1991 as a companion for Koko, the gorilla who was said to understand sign language. Koko died in 2018, and Ndume had since been living at the foundation alone. The foundation argued returning Ndume would be detrimental to his health, possibly even causing premature death.
In February, San Francisco Judge Richard Seeborg ordered Ndume's return for May 13, but it was canceled three times. The foundation says the zoo postponed the first two dates, and the foundation objected to a June 4 transfer date because of concerns about a stomach bacteria. After recent weeks of back-and-forth filings, Seeborg ordered Ndume be returned on June 13.
"We respect their concerns," the zoo's Curator of Primates Ron Evans says. "That's the cool thing about gorillas is everybody likes them. Everyone really cares about them."
Ndume is trained to voluntarily go in his crate and wasn't tranquilized for the trip. During the gorilla's travel back, his regular caretaker was at his side, feeding and monitoring him.
Evans says he worked with Ndume when the gorilla was only 3-years-old. "He's a smart gorilla. Clearly they're all different levels of smart just like people; might be a little more than others. He's clearly a really clever gorilla."
During the dispute, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and PETA were all on the zoo's side. "We applaud Cincinnati's continued commitment to advocating for (Ndume's) transfer," AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe says in a statement. "Their combination of passion for conserving wild gorillas and compassionate care for individual animals, like Ndume, perfectly exemplifies a modern, accredited zoo." In a separate release, PETA says "After years of pressure from PETA, Ndume is now back in his first home - his real home - supported by expert care and with a chance to socialize with gorilla companions."
While Ndume is back at the zoo, Evans says the zoo is moving at his pace and doesn't have a set timeline to put him on display to the public. "In the meantime he gets to see some of the gorillas behind the scenes," he says. "Maybe across the bedroom areas from where he might be at. Maybe not touching initially, but just seeing each other."