Milwaukee County Zoo investigating the cause of two gorilla deaths

Posted at 6:29 PM, May 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-01 19:29:19-04

Two endangered gorillas died in about two weeks time at Milwaukee County Zoo, and the cause of their deaths is still a mystery.

Zoo officials said the intestines of both the male gorilla, 31-year-old Cassius, and the female gorilla, 17-year-old Naku, stopped working. 

The zoo said under human care, the life expectancy for a female gorilla is 38 years and for a male, 34 years. 

Primate keepers from other zoos are now helping the Milwaukee County Zoo figure out if it was the same illness in both gorillas and if so, how it infected the two animals. 

“A lot of samples are being taken from each gorilla to try and figure out what is causing this,” said Beth Rich, Director of Animal Management and Health at the zoo. 

A necropsy, which is an autopsy on an animal, is being performed on the gorillas and official results could take up to two weeks. 

Zoo officials are also taking samples of the animals food, water and surroundings in their exhibit to see if that provides any answers. 

For the time being, there are no gorillas inside the encased Western Lowland Gorillas exhibit. The endangered animals are now downstairs under quarantine, getting antibiotics.

There used to be seven gorillas. Now, there are five. The gorillas will be under quarantine indefinitely. 

Nasrein Bahrami takes her kids to the zoo often. She hopes answers come soon. 

“That they find out what happened just in case it’s something in their environment pollution, something that they’re eating so it doesn’t happen again,” Bahrami said. 

“It’s very shocking. It’s very sad,” Bahrami also said. 

Cassius and Naku were the parents of seven and a half-month-old, Zahra

“She’s doing pretty well. It took her a couple of days to get used to the idea of ‘I’m going to be on a person now, where’s my mom?’" said Rich. 

The baby gorilla is now being formula fed. One zookeeper sleeps with Zahra each night and a zoo spokesperson said they are also wearing a “gorilla t-shirt” while handling her. It has fake fur on the front to make her feel more comfortable. 

“There’s definitely an awareness that things have changed," Rick said. "We want to make sure we are giving her everything she needs medically and emotionally.” 

A spokesperson for the Milwaukee County Zoo told TODAY'S TMJ4 the zoo has had eight “high profile” animal deaths from January 2017 to May 1, 2018. All but two of them were considered geriatric. 

The spokesperson said out of 2,100 plus animals, this represents .09 percent. 

The Milwaukee County Zoo zoo is accredited by The Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That group does inspections every five years. The Milwaukee County Zoo is due for another inspection later this summer.