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Judge sides with Cincinnati Zoo in gorilla custody case

Posted at 1:26 PM, Feb 02, 2019

CINCINNATI — Ndume the gorilla should return home to Cincinnati, a court has decided.

A federal judge in California ruled in favor of the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in a gorilla custody case Friday, finding that "there is no legal basis to negate" an agreement loaning Ndume to The Gorilla Foundation, the group which had owned Koko, the gorilla whom researchers said had learned sign language.

The zoo sent Ndume to be a companion to Koko until she died. However, The Gorilla Foundation then refused to return him, claiming that transporting Ndume with be unnecessarily dangerous. Ndume had been living isolated from other gorillas since Koko died, according to the zoo. Being isolated "is terrible for gorillas," according to Kristen Lukas, chair of the Gorilla Species Survival Program.

District Judge Richard Seeborg wrote in an order that the foundation's concerns about safe transportation are no reason to break its deal with the zoo.

"Given that both sides represent that the well-being of Ndume is their paramount interest, however, they are expected to cooperate now to ensure the conditions under which he is transported to the Zoo and begins living there are as optimal as can reasonably be achieved," Seeborg wrote.

The zoo "is pleased that the court is enforcing the loan agreement as it is written," spokeswoman Michelle Curley said.

"We look forward to working with The Gorilla Foundation to transfer Ndume to Cincinnati safely as soon as possible, so that he can once again live with other gorillas," she said.

PETA also weighed in on the case. The advocacy group had filed in favor of the zoo's case during the legal fight, arguing that Ndume would be better off in the company of other gorillas.

"PETA celebrates that this judgment represents a new life for Ndume the gorilla and is an official court declaration that an intelligent, sensitive gorilla is 'not ordinary chattel,' the group said in a written statement. "We look to The Gorilla Foundation to follow the court's order and cooperate with the Cincinnati Zoo without delay so that Ndume can finally be supported by expert care and have the essential companionship of his fellow gorillas."