Mumba, the tea-drinking bachelor gorilla from Quebec who never quite took to females and was a star zoo attraction for more than four decades, has passed away at 48.
Mumba, who was about 100 in human years, was believed to be the second oldest male of his species living in captivity in the world.
A keeper found Mumba dead in his cage Tuesday morning while doing his routine rounds at the Granby Zoo, east of Montreal.
The zoo says the 220-kilogram gorilla likely died of natural causes.
Mumba, 41 years old at the time, sits in his cage at the Granby Zoo in Granby, Que.
“He probably didn't suffer, he ate well the night before,” zoo spokeswoman Catherine Page said in an interview.
“He probably died in his sleep and that's comforting for us that he didn't have an illness that dragged out over a long period.”
The venerable gorilla, riddled by arthritis and recovering from paralysis in 2004, hadn't been seen in public since retiring in June of 2007.
But he lived well in retirement, foraging for fruits and vegetables in his cage, but also drinking tea and enjoying treats such as popcorn, cottage cheese and couscous with parsley.
Zoo officials estimate more than 20 million visitors visited his quarters over more than 47 years and they erected a bronze sculpture of him a few years ago.
“For sure he's a part of the history of Quebec,” Ms. Page said. “It's not too much to say that.”
Mumba was born in Cameroon and arrived in Canada as a 15-month-old orphan in 1961, his parents likely killed by poachers.
The practice of taking gorillas into captivity is now frowned upon, which made Mumba even more rare.
He was initially taken in by a local family in Granby who raised him like a child – complete with diapers, human clothing, a high chair and bibs.
He was transferred to the zoo when he was about 30 months old and had several gorilla companions over the years.
Despite efforts by his handlers, Mumba never mated, likely a result of being raised by humans. He had a few female gorillas live with him over the years, Zira and Caroline, but the spark wasn't there.
“He wasn't interested in women and he had very little fertility in his sperm, so Mumba will remain unique,” said Ms. Page.
Mumba was one of about 700 lowland gorillas living in captivity in zoos around the world. In the wild, lowland gorillas are on the verge of extinction.
Because he was born in the wild, Mumba had unique genetic material highly sought by zoologists, who took several tissue samples from him over the years, Ms. Page said.
Timmy, a 49-year-old gorilla housed at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, was the only male older than Mumba, she said.
In the wild, a gorilla's life expectancy is between 35 and 40 years.
“So 48 years is very respectable for a gorilla like Mumba.”
An autopsy will be performed and then Mumba's remains will be transferred to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.