CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and the Gorilla Foundation have been unable to reach an agreement on what's best for Ndume, the 37-year-old silverback at the center of a custody dispute between the two organizations.
As the zoo's lawsuit against the foundation continues, the zoo is bringing in gorilla experts who agree that Ndume would be best back at the zoo with other gorillas, despite the foundation's claims that transfering him could be dangerous. The zoo disputed that claim in a new court filing Thursday.
"Common sense and scientific evidence contradict TGF's claim. We've successfully managed 160 gorilla transfers to and from Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoos over the last decade," Kristen Lukas, chair of the Gorilla Species Survival Program, which oversees the care of more than 350 gorillas in nearly 50 AZA zoos, said. "Moving gorillas is a safe and necessary aspect of ensuring proper socialization, maximizing animal welfare, and enriching the lives of all gorillas in human care."
Ndume was born in Cincinnati and spent 27 years as a companion to Koko, the gorilla whom researchers claimed had learned to communicate with humans through sign language. The loan agreement between the zoo and foundation states that Ndume would be placed at an Association of Zoos and Aquariums institution recommended by the Gorilla Species Survival Program and Cincinnati Zoo once Koko died. But since Koko died last June, Ndume has lived isolated from other gorillas as the foundation refused to return him, according to the zoo.
"What is terrible for gorillas is being left in isolation, which is what’s happening to Ndume right now at TGF," Lukas said. "That’s why all parties agreed that Ndume would leave the Foundation when Koko passed away — so Ndume wouldn’t be alone."
Ron Evans, the Cincinnati Zoo's curator of primates, said being around other gorillas "is a foundation natural history need" that humans can't replace.
Animal rights group PETA even threw its support behind the zoo this week, accusing the Gorilla Foundation of negligence in caring for its animals.
A hearing is set for Jan. 24 in a California court.