We threw a birthday party for a GORILLA!

Courtney Dunn
August 11, 2022

What do zoos do when a gorilla turns FIFTY years old? They throw a big birthday celebration of course!

On January 19th, Toronto Zookeepers collected party streamers, wrapping paper, plushies, and more. Why? To celebrate Charles the Western Lowland Gorilla turning 50 years old. Turning this age is a significant achievement for a gorilla! The average lifespan for this species is closer to 40 years. Since Charles has been an integral part of the Toronto Zoo since its inception, it made sense to go all out for him.

Charles originally came to the Toronto Zoo from the country of Gabon in Africa. He arrived just prior to the Zoo’s opening in 1974. Since then, Charles has absolutely proven himself to be an example of what a silverback represents — from ten direct offspring to being a grandfather of six. His most recent daughter, “Charlie”, was named in his honour. According to the Toronto Zoo, Charles is an amazing father and grandfather to his family.

Charlie and mother Ngozi. Credit: Toronto Zoo

Hear from the CEO

“We are both excited and proud to be celebrating this milestone with Charles” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Your Toronto Zoo plays a vital role in supporting conservation efforts across the globe including the critically endangered Western Lowland gorilla. Thanks to funding from the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Conservancy we are very excited to be able to commit a quarter of a million dollars over the next 10 years to gorilla conservation efforts in the wild.”

Gorilla’s at the zoo

Just like humans, zoo animals require extra care as they age. In order to ensure Charles is healthy in his golden years, the Toronto Zoo’s care team has made modifications to both his diet and habitat. Harder vegetables are now steamed, to make them softer to chew, while his leaf eater chow is dipped in herbal tea every morning. Keepers take extra care to ensure Charles’ bed is extra comfy with thicker shavings. The zoo has even installed handrails throughout the habitat to ensure he is able to navigate his home with ease.

Charlie, now more grown up, enjoying a piñata during the celebrations. Taken on Zoolife.tv

After the gorilla family was shifted safely off habitat on Charles’ birthday, the keepers quickly got to work. Some placed out “party snacks” in the form of pomegranates, pineapples, and various other fruits. Other keepers placed various wrapped presents (yes, wrapped presents!) around with a variety of gorilla-safe gifts hidden inside. And, last, but certainly not least — many keepers focused on the party decorations themselves — from streamers to hand-crafted signs and everything in between.

Ngozi eyeing the mess of presents opened by the family. Taken on Zoolife.tv

It was clear as day just how delighted all of the gorillas were. The troop split off into several directions, investigating their new enrichment. The younger ones, especially Charlie, seemed to have a keen eye for the plushies.

The endangered species

Celebrating half a century of life is sure to be a milestone for anyone, but it is especially significant considering the critically endangered status of Western lowland gorillas. Populations of this iconic species continue to decline at an annual rate of approximately 2.7% with no end in sight. This decline is mostly due to poaching but influenced by habitat loss and degradation as well as disease. Because of these factors, their population has decreased by more than 60% over the last 20 to 25 years.

Charles keeping a close eye on the troop, as always. Taken on Zoolife.tv.

The Toronto Zoo is part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Western lowland gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) Program, which aims to establish and maintain healthy, genetically diverse populations, and overall conservation efforts to save this incredible species. By supporting the Toronto Zoo, you are also supporting this program.

In terms of hands-on support you can do, the Phone Apes Program is a fantastic effort. If you are local, you can donate your used cell phones to the Toronto Zoo’s PhoneApes Program. If you are not local, chances are your neighboring zoo has a similar program. Cell phone recycling encourages responsible waste management of electronic materials. The e-waste sector is growing rapidly and the impacts include illegal and irresponsible mining, landfill restrictions and overuse, and habitat loss in Western Africa. Recycling old cell phones, and other small electronic devices helps reclaim valuable metals and reduces environmental social impacts.

You can also support Charles and his troop of Western Lowland gorillas by purchasing a Zoolife subscription, 50% of proceeds benefit animal conservation efforts at Zoolife’s partner zoos.