One of the World’s Oldest Breeding Male Gorillas Turns 45
Winston, a critically endangered western lowland gorilla, celebrated his birthday today (Monday, Feb. 20, 2017) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, surrounded by his family troop and an energetic crowd of admirers. Estimated to be 45 years old, Winston is considered one the oldest breeding male gorillas in a managed care setting, so animal care staff and volunteers made sure to mark the occasion with a special birthday bash—complete with festive decorations and delicious treats.
The Safari Park’s Gorilla Forest habitat was decked out with present boxes, treat-filled gourds, multicolored browse, and a variety of edible delights. The Nutritional Services department created a shimmering blue three-tiered ice cake that included orange, jicama and yam slices frozen inside the cake, and a pineapple top. Each member of the troop, including the birthday boy, entered the habitat and immediately started to partake of the buffet of tasty snacks scattered about—but as usual, Winston made sure he was the first to sample the cake.
Winston arrived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 1984 with five other gorillas. Since then, Animal care staff says he’s grown into a strong silverback with a very easygoing personality—only getting involved in resolving disputes if he absolutely has to.
“I’ve worked with Winston most of his adult life and he’s matured into a wonderful silverback,” said Peggy Sexton, lead mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “He’s the perfect leader for this troop. He doesn’t get involved too much if he doesn’t have to, but he keeps things running and keeps the little boys in check. He’s just doing a great job.”
Guests can typically spot Winston lounging in the rear of the exhibit or perched at either end of the habitat watching the other gorillas, especially the young males, to make sure they behave.
Gorillas are listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Threats to the species include people hunting gorillas for food, called bushmeat, loss of habitat due to logging and mining, and disease, such as Ebola. The past 15 years have seen a dramatic decline in gorilla numbers, with almost half of the entire eastern gorilla species population believed to have been wiped out. San Diego Zoo Global has partnered with multiple organizations and local conservationists in Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon to shed light on gorilla genetic variations across regions, and to promote community-led conservation initiatives.
The Safari Park’s Gorilla Forest is home to a troop of nine western lowland gorillas—Winston, four adult females, two young males, one young female and the newest addition, a female baby born last October.