Zoo's Fight Over Gorilla Ndume's Return To Cincinnati Continues

Jun 4, 2019

The Cincinnati Zoo is asking a federal court in California to set a date for a gorilla named "Ndume" to return to Cincinnati.

According to court documents, Ndume was scheduled to fly to Cincinnati on June 4, but The Gorilla Foundation where he currently lives objected because of concerns about a stomach bacteria.

The sides filed a joint status update Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. In it, the zoo asks Judge Richard Seeborg to set a June 12 transfer date for Ndume to fly to Cincinnati. The Gorilla Foundation wants to delay the transfer for three weeks, citing a health concern.

The Gorilla Foundation announced several days before the mutually agreed upon June 4 transfer date that it would not allow Ndume to travel, the zoo says in the court filing. The foundation says its doctor found Balantidium coli (B. coli) in Ndume's fecal matter and is worried the condition may flare up under the stress of travel.

"Ndume's positive fecal test appeared for the first time, right after Ndume exhibited extreme stress when hearing the transfer crate being closed," the foundation's attorneys write. "This is hardly a coincidence. How can a positive test under these circumstances be ignored? The consequences of being wrong are now higher than ever before. Mere days before he is to be transferred is the time to get his B. coli under control. Transporting him without doing so could prove fatal. "

The Cincinnati Zoo disagrees.

"The primate veterinary experts at [the zoo] and the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (veterinarians who work at other zoos and oversee the transfers of hundreds of gorillas in human care) reviewed this finding and are not concerned that the presence of this trace amount of the non-active form of the protozoal organism poses a health risk to Ndume or should prevent his transfer," zoo attorneys write. "They are confident that he can be safely and successfully returned to Cincinnati now."

The sides are also at odds over which medical professionals know best. Specifically, The Gorilla Foundation's key expert is a gastroenterologist named David Shields, M.D. The foundation says he has more than 10 years of experience working with gorillas in this field of medicine.

The zoo counters that Shields is a human doctor, not a veterinarian. It points out that seven veterinarians, including two picked by the foundation, all agreed on a recent conference call that Ndume could "be safely transferred at this time, despite the potential presence of B. coli in his system."

This is the third time Ndume's return was canceled. He was first scheduled for transport on May 13. The foundation says the zoo postponed the first two dates.

Get Caught Up

Seeborg in February ordered Ndume be returned to the Cincinnati Zoo from The Gorilla Foundation. Ndume had been living there alone following the 2018 death of "Koko," the gorilla famous for her alleged knowledge of sign language.

The Cincinnati Zoo filed a federal suit against the California-based The Gorilla Foundation last October after the foundation refused to return Ndume, who was loaned to it in 1991 as a companion for Koko. The foundation argued doing so would be detrimental to Ndume's health, possibly even causing premature death.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, PETA, and eventually the court sided with the Cincinnati Zoo.