CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden officials are taking legal action against the Gorilla Foundation in an effort to bring a silverback gorilla back to Cincinnati.
Officials filed the complaint to bring home Ndume, a 37-year-old male who was moved to California in 1991 to be a social companion for Koko, the gorilla famous for using sign language to communicate.
Koko died in June, and zoo officials said in August Ndume would return to his birthplace in Cincinnati "as soon as possible." But now, Cincinnati Zoo leaders say The Gorilla Foundation President Penny Patterson said she “did not intend to cooperate with the move” of Ndume.
Ndume’s loan agreement, which was updated in 2015, stated that he would be placed in an “Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institution recommended by the Gorilla Species Survival Plan and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden” after Koko died, according to Cincinnati Zoo officials.
In a statement, Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said Koko’s death has left Ndume completely isolated from other gorillas, and he should be moved back to Cincinnati because AZA scientists determined it can provide him the best home.
“We have ten gorillas, including relatives of his, who can provide socialization opportunities, qualified vets, dedicated, highly-experienced gorilla caregivers, and an excellent AZA-accredited facility that we recently renovated and expanded,” Maynard said.
The suit, filed Thursday, alleges The Gorilla Foundation sent a letter to its followers which said it planned to keep Ndume and acquire a female gorilla to live with him. The Gorilla Foundation officials then refused to allow Cincinnati Zoo leaders to come to the facility to build a crate for transportation in Ndume’s enclosure, the lawsuit says.
Ron Evans, Cincinnati Zoo’s curator of primates, has worked with Ndume for 30 years.
"The foundation need for a social animal like a gorilla is to have company of other gorillas,” Evans said. “That's the exact reason why we didn't remove Ndume from the Gorilla Foundation sooner because he had not been living with Koko directly for some time."
Part of the reason The Gorilla Foundation doesn’t want to move Ndume is because they’re worried about transferring an older gorilla, Evans said.
"Although we respect those concerns and everybody shares those welfare concerns, they're not valid,” Evans said.
Evans said it’s painful that the pending litigation could leave Ndume isolated for months.
"The number one thing is to get him around other gorillas as quickly as possible,” Evans said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals official Delcianna Winders released the following statement in support of the zoo’s decision to file suit:
“Gorillas' lives revolve around their families, yet the Gorilla Foundation is keeping Ndume in solitary confinement. He deserves to have the opportunity to thrive and socialize with other gorillas, and PETA supports the Cincinnati Zoo's efforts to remove him from the Gorilla Foundation's tumbledown facility, with its history of failures in both cleaning and veterinary care.”
WCPO has reached out to The Gorilla Foundation for comment.