Passing of a Patriarch: Calgary Zoo mourns the loss of silverback gorilla Kakinga

kakingaeatingWMCalgary, AB – The Calgary Zoo is deeply saddened to share that silverback gorilla, Kakinga, passed away Saturday night at the age of 37. Often called the zoo’s gentle giant, Kakinga was an exceptional silverback; a kind, loving, protective and diligent leader.

“This is a sad day for our zoo as we remember what an important gorilla Kakinga was to our troop and to the western lowland gorilla species,” says Dr. Malu Celli, Curator, Calgary Zoo. “Kakinga’s legacy will live on in his offspring in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) and in the hearts of those who came to love to him over his many years at the Calgary Zoo.”

The zoo’s veterinary team determined Kakinga died as a result of developing a large tear in his aorta which caused the sac around his heart to become filled with blood and ultimately stopped his heart. This is one of the well-recognized causes of mortality in gorillas, especially males. The median life expectancy for gorillas in captivity is 31.1 years old.

Kakinga was born December 1, 1978 at the Jersey Zoo in the United Kingdom and arrived at the Calgary Zoo in 1984. He transitioned into the role of silverback, or leader of the troop in 1993, which he held for the past 23 years. During his time as silverback, he fathered 13 offspring, eight of which are surviving with the most recent being born just this past March at the zoo.

Kakinga’s calm and gentle nature endeared him to all zoo staff who cared for him along with the many visitors who spent time with him in the TransAlta Rainforest building. He was very involved in his role as leader of the troop, acting as a peacekeeper, a protector and in some very tender moments, a father.

Kakinga was one of the zoo’s most beloved animals and he will be dearly missed by all who had the privilege to follow his life.

Those who wish to express their condolences can do so by recycling an old cell phone. Taking this small action will help to protect wild gorilla habitat, so that other silverbacks, like Kakinga, have a place to call home.