Pattycake, First Gorilla Born in New York City, Dies at 40 Years Old at WCS’s Bronx Zoo

Bronx, New York, March 31, 2013 -- Pattycake, the first gorilla born in New York City, died today at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo at 40 years old.

Pattycake was under medical care due to her advanced age and she was being treated for chronic cardiac issues. A necropsy was performed today and more conclusive results will follow.

Pattycake was born at the Central Park Zoo on Sept. 3, 1972 to parents Kongo and Lulu. Since her birth, she was loved by New Yorkers who were captivated by her story. At five months old she was followed closely in the news after sustaining a broken arm. After her injury, she was brought to the Bronx Zoo’s animal hospital for care where she was raised by Bronx Zoo keepers until being returned to her parents at the Central Park Zoo. In 1983, she was brought back to the Bronx Zoo permanently. Two books have been published about her, Gorilla Baby: The Story of Pattycake; and Gentle Gorilla: The Story of Pattycake.

“Pattycake was perhaps the best known gorilla at the Bronx Zoo, and an institution in New York City,” said Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo and WCS Executive Vice President and General Director of Zoos & Aquarium. “Millions of children in New York City grew up with Pattycake at the Bronx Zoo. Pattycake was a very special animal and her presence will be deeply missed."

Upon her death, Pattycake was the 31st oldest gorilla of the 338 presently residing in North American zoos. She surpassed the median life span for gorillas in zoos, which is 37 years of age.

Pattycake had 10 infants while at the Bronx Zoo (two of which were twins born in 1995). Her offspring currently reside in zoos in Omaha, Louisville, Utah, Detroit, Boston and Buffalo. The Bronx Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), a breeding and management program designed to maintain a genetically viable and demographically stable gorilla population. A total of 59 gorillas have been born at the Bronx Zoo over the past 40 years.

The Bronx Zoo currently has three troops of western lowland gorillas, with 18 animals living in the award-winning Congo Gorilla Forest, which opened in June, 1999. The exhibit has welcomed millions of visitors through the years and helped raise more than $11 million for the protection of gorillas, elephants, mandrills and other important African forest species. The Bronx Zoo became the first zoo to directly contribute exhibit admission fees to in situ conservation efforts.

There are four gorilla subspecies. In addition to western lowland gorillas there are mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and Cross River gorillas. All are classified as “critically endangered” by the IUCN, except eastern lowland gorillas, which are endangered. The Wildlife Conservation Society works to safeguard all four subspecies.

Across Central Africa, gorillas face the looming threats of hunting for bushmeat, loss of habitat, and the spread of the Ebola virus, which is lethal to gorillas as well as humans. WCS is working with partners to combat Ebola, find alternative sources of food for people and secure this last stronghold for Africa’s apes.

WCS’s Dr. George Schaller conducted the first study of gorillas in the wild in the late 1950s and early 1960s.. His work and that of many others have helped to inform the care of gorillas in zoos. More recently, in 2008, WCS announced the discovery of more than 125,000 western lowland gorillas in the northern Republic of Congo. Following that discovery, the Congolese government pledged its commitment to protect the Ntokou-Pikounda landscape with an eventual national park. In January this year, the Republic of Congo declared a new national park that protects a core population of these 125,000 western lowland gorillas.

CONTACT:

Mary Dixon, 347-840-1242, mdixon@wcs.org; 
Max Pulsinelli, 571-218-7601, mpulsinelli@wcs.org

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