Oklahoma City Zoo mourns unexpected death of Western lowland gorilla

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials at the Oklahoma City Zoo are mourning the unexpected death of one of its adult Western lowland gorillas.

Around 9 p.m. on Friday, zoo caretakers discovered 24-year-old Kelele, an adult female Western lowland gorilla, unresponsive in her habitat at the zoo’s Great EscApe area.

Earlier that day, employees noticed that Kelele was lethargic, uninterested in eating and showed signs of discomfort when she tried to move. The veterinary team visually examined Kelele and administered pain medication for the discomfort. Care teams continued to monitor her throughout the day and into the night.

When she was found unresponsive, the team allowed her gorilla family time to mourn their troop member before she was taken to the zoo’s Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.

“Kelele was an incredible animal and ambassador for her species, and she will be missed by many,” said Kimberly Lesser, OKC Zoo’s animal curator. “The Zoo’s veterinary and animal care teams are dedicated to providing the best care and welfare possible to the animals entrusted to us. We have the honor of caring for these amazing animals through most all life stages and unfortunately death is part of this process.”

Kelele photo credit Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino

Following a necropsy, authorities determined that Kelele died from mesenteric root torsion (intestinal twist.) The ‘twist’ cuts off blood vessels, compromises the blood supply to the intestines and quickly releases toxins into the blood stream.  Zoo officials say her condition was severe and progressed quickly.

Prior to Friday, she appeared to be in good health and was not showing any other symptoms. Mesenteric root torsion is rare, and there is very little known about what causes it.

Kelele was born at the Toledo Zoo and arrived at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens in 2000 as part of a breeding recommendation by the Gorilla Species Survival Plan.

In 2013, she gave birth to her only offspring, Leom. Leom is doing well and spending time with his adoptive father and young troop mate.

The median life expectancy for female Western lowland gorillas is 38 years.

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