BioPark gorilla latest victim of bacterial infection

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Aug. 23—Huerfanita, a 48 year old female western lowland gorilla at the ABQ BioPark Zoo, was euthanized on Saturday after it became clear she was not responding to medications to treat a bacterial infection and that she was not going to recover.

The digestive tract infection caused by the shigella bacteria is the same one that earlier this month killed Brian, a 32 year old siamang, and which caused zoo staff to remove gorillas, orangutans and siamangs from their public display areas to be treated and monitored in their private indoor spaces.

"Huerfanita was a beloved member of our Zoo family and we are absolutely devastated by this loss," said ABQ BioPark Director Stephanie Stowell. "She was a long-time Zoo resident and was a special favorite of her caretakers and guests."

Spanish for "little orphan," Huerfanita was born at the BioPark Zoo in 1973, moved to the Bronx Zoo in 1978 and had her first offspring, Jamie, in 1985. She has since had seven more babies and helped raise eight other gorilla orphans who were rejected by their mothers, just as she was. Huerfanita returned to the BioPark Zoo in 2006, accompanied by her last foster, Jack.

Visitors to the zoo would often see Huerfanita clapping, blowing kisses or carrying a stuffed teddy bear. She enjoyed sitting in the window of the gorilla playroom interacting with guests, Stowell said.

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the median life expectancy for western lowland gorillas in AZA accredited facilities is 39 years, although some gorillas have lived into their 50s in captivity. At 48, Huerfanita's advanced age likely made it more difficult for her body to fight off the infection, veterinary staff said.

The infection affected primates have been undergoing treatment since Aug. 8, when male gorilla Kojo began showing symptoms. Kojo has since recovered and most of the remaining apes are said to be responding positively to treatment.

Zoo veterinarians and staff are closely monitoring 17 year old male gorilla, Hasani, and 30 year old female siamang Johore, both of whom have more severe symptoms. Johore was siamang Brian's mate.

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