How I wish I could know what she's thinking.
Colo the western lowland gorilla is a gorilla of firsts. She was the first gorilla to be born in captivity, anywhere in the world. Her parents, Millie and Baron Macombo, were wild caught by "Gorilla Bill" Said of Bexley, Ohio, in what was then French Cameroon. They arrived in New York on December 22, 1950, and the Columbus Zoo agreed to take them on since they had no planned destination. It was an historic decision. Six years later, on December 22, 1956, Millie gave birth to Colo (short for Columbus), starting a string of "firsts" in the captive breeding of gorillas. Before Colo's birth, we didn't even know the gestation period of gorillas, which turns out to be about 250 days.
Colo's daughter Emmy was the first second-generation captive bred gorilla in the world, and her granddaughter Cora was the first third-generation captive bred gorilla. Colo was also grandmother to the first gorilla twins ever born in the western hemisphere, and the first surviving gorilla to be conceived by artificial insemination was also a grandchild of Colo's.
The Columbus Zoo has paved the way for other zoos in creating naturalistic habitats for their gorillas, including a huge outdoor play area rife with climbing equipment, swings and ropes. Here, the animals blossom and relate to each other much as they would in the wild, in family groups.
Colo is the oldest gorilla in the world. On December 22, 2009, she celebrated her 53rd birthday. It doesn't seem all that old to me, but gorillas age differently from humans. So little genetic distance between us, and yet we're so different. Colo's got some pretty bad arthritis to deal with, something a wild gorilla might not live long enough to develop. She takes an arthritis drug approved for humans each day.
I know. Every time I eat something, I have to dig part of it back out, too, Colo. Comes with the territory for primates of a certain age.
I became curious about the glass that separates the gorillas from people, so I asked zoo docent Sue Roberts whether they could see us as well as we can see them. "Oh yes!" she replied. And she went on to say that they love watching people--it's a kind of enrichment for them to have someone to observe. Colo seemed very contemplative, but her eyes moved around as she took note of our behavior.
Our kids were rapt, watching her watch them.
And very respectful of this old lady, this gorilla of many firsts. And it's all happened right here in Ohio.
Here's Sue's snapshot of Colo after she finished opening her last present at her 53rd birthday party last December 22. Tuckered out and full of cake.
For a lovely video of Colo's 53rd birthday celebration, click here.