As one of the four oldest gorillas in the world, every birthday is an important one for Vila at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. In October of this year, Vila turned 58, and celebrated the milestone in superb gorilla fashion. Park staff and volunteers filled the exhibit with chic birthday decorations and some of Vila’s favorite enrichment items and foods.
The party was enjoyed by the entire troop. Vila has had two offspring of her own, but has also helped raise numerous youngsters over the years and is in fact a great-great-great grandmother! Having youngsters around has a way of keeping a senior gorilla young at heart!
Being advanced in age, Vila and other geriatric animals often require some special care. Older gorillas can develop many of the same age-related issues as their human counterparts. Geriatric vitamins, joint supplements for arthritis, and baby aspirin for heart health are a few medications that can aid in preventative health care as gorillas age. Also, Winston, our 43-year-old silverback participates in physical therapy during his morning training sessions with keepers in order to ease stiffness that has developed in his shoulders and neck over the years.
All of the gorillas at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park have begun training to take part in cardiac ultrasound imaging. Not unlike humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans can develop cardiac disease with advanced age. Along with several other zoos in the nation, San Diego Zoo Global is partnering with the Great Ape Heart Project out of Zoo Atlanta to collect data on cardiac function in our great apes. This data can help diagnose heart conditions and alert veterinary staff to early warning signs, as well as help us study the disease itself and the factors effecting its development in non-human great apes.
Older animals such as Vila teach us a lot about the changing needs of animals as they mature, and help inspire us to continue to provide the best possible care for our senior residents at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park!
Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Baby Joanne’s Growing Diet.