Oldest Gorilla in America Dies in Kentucky at Age 64

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Beresford Hodge/PA Images via Getty Images)

The oldest western lowland gorilla in the United States has died at the age of 64.

Kentucky’s Lousiville Zoo announced that its longtime resident, Helen, had to be euthanized on Friday, Oct. 14. Officials said they made the heartbreaking decision because the gorilla’s health had been steadily declining.

Helen “had been on quality of life watch… for several months,” according to a news release. And she inevitably developed tremors and instability, which “put her at greater risk of falling which impacted her day-to-day welfare.”

“Letting go of a special gorilla like Helen is very hard,” Louisville Zoo director Dan Maloney said in the statement. “But it is often the last, best thing we can do for our animals.”

A Typical Female Zoo Gorilla Only Lives Around 40 Years

A typical female zoo gorilla only lives to be about 39 years old. And while Helen outlived her expectancy by decades, she remained in “remarkably good health” until the very end, aside from “expected age-related arthritis and some periodontal disease.”

Helen was born in the wilderness of Western Africa. Zoo officials estimate her birth year to be sometime in 1958. Staff celebrated her birthday each January. She lived in Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo before moving to Louisville in 2002.

During her golden years, Helen had a dentist, cardiologist, neurologist, gynecologist, orthopedist, and pain manager working to keep her healthy. Dr. Zoli Gyimesi, a senior veterinarian at the Zoo, said the treatment helped the staff gain knowledge on caring for senior gorillas.  

Helen Was the Second Oldest Gorilla in the World

Helen’s keepers reportedly dubbed her “Grand Dame” because her exceptionally long life allowed her to become a mother of three, grandmother of 17, and great-grandmother of 21. Helen also lived long enough to meet eight great-great-grandchildren and one great-great-great-grandchild.

Aside from being the oldest living gorilla in the US, she was also the second oldest in the world. The oldest western lowland gorilla is a female named Fatou. She’s currently living in Germany at Zoo Berlin. Fatou turned 65 in April.

“Helen’s exceptional longevity is not only a testament to her personal constitution, but also to the outstanding care provided by her keeper team and the animal health care staff over these past 20 years,” Maloney added. “Helen was one of our most beloved ambassadors. Her fascination with human babies delighted families for decades. I know our friends and members will share in her loss and miss her greatly.”