By: Kristen Hegel
Kimya, a western lowland gorilla brought to the Riverbanks Zoo in 2004, was found dead in his sleeping area on the morning of June 28, 2010. Prior to his death, no signs of sickness were visible. “It’s a sad day at Riverbanks because this was one of our major animals,” Lindsay Burke, Riverbanks Zoo spokesperson, said responding to the death of Kimya, the 16-year-old gorilla.
Shortly after his death, the body was sent to the University of Georgia for a necropsy, an autopsy. Four months later, Kimya’s cause of death is still unknown. Experts were able to narrow down the causes of death to inflammation of the brain, fluid in the lungs or fibrosis of the heart. Clues found in the necropsy results pointed at all three possibilities, but the main cause hasn’t been determined. Either way, according to Riverbanks Zoo vet, Dr. Keith Benson, nothing in necropsy led the experts to believe that the cause was contagious and could somehow affect the other two western lowland gorillas at the zoo.
Another helpful hint was given by a study in 1994 that determined that heart disease was the cause in 41 percent of 74 captive gorillas’ deaths. “We not only want to understand his death but also see if it’s applicable to others,” Benson stated. According to Benson, several animal pathologists within the country have looked into Kimya’s case by studying and examining tissue samples from the three gorillas, which were collected a couple years ago for the Gorilla Health Project.
The Gorilla Health Project began in 2006 to get a better grasp on gorilla health problems after multiple gorillas died in US zoos. Because of the Gorilla Health Project, Kimya’s case is getting more attention than usual in order to gather more information on captive gorillas’ health to help prevent more deaths.
Any of the three problems revealed could have been the cause of Kimya’s death, or it could have been a combination. “They may have all played a role,” Benson said. As researchers find more clues, Kimya’s death, and what the Gorilla Health Project learns from it, will help the well-being of captive gorillas down the road.