The oldest gorilla in captivity, a female named Jenny who celebrated her 55th birthday this spring, has died at her home in the Dallas Zoo, a spokesman said Friday.
Zoo officials decided to euthanize Jenny Thursday night because of an inoperable tumor in her stomach. Jenny had stopped eating and drinking recently and tests showed she was unlikely to recover, said Sean Greene, director of Community Relations for the Dallas Zoological Society.
"The last couple of weeks we noticed that she hadn't been feeling all that great," Greene said. "It was a quality of life decision."
Jenny, a Western lowland gorilla, was born in the wild and acquired by the zoo in 1957. She was one of five gorillas at the Dallas Zoo.
"It's a huge loss for the entire gorilla community," said Kristen Lukas, curator of conservation and science at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio and the gorilla species survival plan coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums "It's very sad that she's passed on, but what a great life she's had."
In May, the zoo held a birthday bash to celebrate Jenny's longevity. She was feted with a cake made of a frozen fruit treats, and the adoration of zoo staff and fans.
Jenny's caretakers said she preferred banana peels to the fruit inside and loved to forage for seeds and cereal hidden beneath pine shavings. She was often seen napping below a fig tree in her habitat. Jenny was said to have a sweet disposition and enjoyed being around people.
"We had a tough time saying goodbye," said Todd Bowsher, curator of the zoo's mammals in the Wilds of Africa exhibit.
At 218 pounds, Jenny was in relatively good health and had been part of a national study on female menopause in gorillas.
Gorillas in the wild normally live to age 30 or 35, but they can survive years longer in a zoo, with veterinary care and protection from predators. Still, of the roughly 360 gorillas in North American zoos, only four were over 50 as of this spring.
One of those, Colo, a 51-year-old female gorilla at the Columbus Zoo, is now considered the oldest living gorilla, according to the International Species Information System, which maintains records on animals at 750 institutions around the world.
Colo was the first gorilla born in captivity, in 1956, said Nate Flesness, director of the international species organization.
Earlier this year, the international database confirmed that Jenny was the oldest.
Jenny gave birth in 1965 to a female named Vicki, who was sent to Alberta, Canada, at age 5. Zoo veterinarians aren't sure why Jenny didn't conceive again.
Just last month, another gorilla at the Dallas zoo, 43-year-old Hercules, died after undergoing a medical procedure for spinal disease.
There are now four gorillas at the Dallas Zoo: Timbo, 46, Tufani and Patrick, both 18, and Makena, 9.
In 2004, Dallas police shot and killed a 13-year-old gorilla named Jabari at the zoo after it jumped over a wall, bit three people and snatched up a toddler by his teeth. The enclosure was remodeled and the city paid a fine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.