(ZOO ANIMALS/ANIMAL NEWS) A year following the tragic death of Harambe, the world lost another famed gorilla last night. Colo, the world’s oldest known gorilladied overnight in her sleep at the Columbus Zoo after being diagnosed with cancer last fall.

The first gorilla born in captivity, Colo went on to become the oldest known member of her species. She had just celebrated her 60th birthday on Dec. 22, outliving most Western lowland gorillas, whose usual lifespan is 40 years.

But even though gorillas in captivity may have longer lifespans (unlike orcas in captivity), a number of primatologists and animal advocates still question whether it’s ethical to keep primates in captivity.

Nevertheless, Colo–the matriarch of a huge gorilla family–has greatly contributed to her species’ population. She is survived by 3 kids, 16 grandchildren, and 12 great grandkids.

Continue reading to learn more about Colo’s legacy. — Global Animal

Colo, who was the nation’s oldest living gorilla, sits inside of her enclosure during her 60th birthday party at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium on Dec. 22, 2016. Photo Credit: Ty Wright / AP

The Columbus Dispatch, Kathy Lynn Gray & Alissa Widman Neese

Colo, the oldest gorilla born in captivity, has died at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. She was 60 years old and died overnight in her sleep.

The matriarch of the zoo’s gorilla family celebrated her milestone birthday on Dec. 22, shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer. She had surgery Dec. 3 to remove a malignant tumor. It’s not yet known if cancer contributed to her death.

The zoo has designated an area outside of its entrance for anyone wishing to remember her beginning Wednesday.

Colo as an infant, being held by the Columbus Zoo director’s wife. Photo Credit: Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

As news broke of Colo the gorilla’s death at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Columbus groups, residents and others remembered her fondly on social media.

Following a necropsy, Colo will be cremated and her ashes will be be buried at an undisclosed location at the zoo, according to a statement.

How Colo happened to be born at what was then the tiny, little-known Columbus Zoo is a tale worthy of a movie script. Zoos across the country were trying to mate their gorillas, but none had even gotten pregnant.

As author Jeff Lyttle explains in his book, Gorillas in Our Midst, the pregnancy was a surprise even to Earle Davis, zoo director at the time. That’s because Davis had decreed that the zoo’s male and female gorillas, Millie and Mac, be kept in separate cages at all times because he feared they’d hurt each other.

But part-time keeper Warren Thomas noticed what he thought was mating behavior by the two and decided to secretly put them together at night. Within weeks he was sure Millie was pregnant.

Fearing for his job, Thomas kept the pregnancy a secret. Finally, after nearly eight months, he told Davis.

Because keepers didn’t know what a gorilla’s gestation period was, they pegged the due date as early January — nine months after conception. But on Dec. 22, 1956, Thomas found the tiny baby gorilla on the floor of Millie’s cage, still in its amniotic sac. He distracted Millie, grabbed the baby, broke the sac and gave it massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until it started to breathe.

Hilliard veterinarian Richard Vesper remembers the momentous birth well. His late father, Robert W. Vesper, was the zoo veterinarian and took 4-year-old “Dick” with him to visit the new infant.

“I remember the furor,” Vesper said. “I know that I touched her. And I remember that a lot of important people thought they’d get to hold her and they were told: Hands off!”

Vesper said Colo was kept warm in an isolet, the state-of-the-art hospital bed for human babies at the time. Doctors worried that humans would infect Colo with disease, so most were kept at arm’s length.

“There was a lot of trial and error and they made decisions on a gut level,” Vesper said.

National magazines like Time and Life and television shows like Today came to call on the gorilla miracle. Columbus mayor M.E. Sensenbrenner passed out cigars with the message: It’s a girl.

Millie, however, saw little of Colo, as her baby was named through a newspaper contest. Doctors and keepers feared she would harm the infant, so they decided she should be raised in a nursery by humans.

With $11,000 in emergency funds, a nursery with glass on two sides was built for the new arrival. In 1957, more than 1 million people visited her.

Colo’s importance was not just her birth. The three children she had with wild-born Bongo, who died in 1990, have produced 16 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. Those family members live at Columbus Zoo and in zoos around the country.

Colo, though, has never left the Columbus Zoo. She exceeded her life expectancy by more than 20 years.

“Colo touched the hearts of generations of people,” said Tom Stalf, zoo president and CEO. “She was an ambassador for gorillas and inspired people to learn more about the critically endangered species and motivated them to protect gorillas in their native habitat.”

Any donations made to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Colo’s memory will be used to support the zoo’s gorilla conservation programs. Contributions can be made through the zoo’s website,give.columbuszoo.org/colo

More Dispatch: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2017/01/17/colo.html

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