Thursday afternoon Louisville Zoo said a sad goodbye to Frank, a 44-year-old geriatric male silverback western lowland gorilla who suffered from chronic arthritis and heart disease.
Born in the wild in Cameroon, Africa, in 1964, Frank lived most of his life at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, but transferred to the Louisville Zoo in 2002 for the opening of Gorilla Forest. Frank was the “quintessential” gorilla and historically demonstrated great paternalism and leadership abilities with his many offspring. Because of his gentleness and tolerance, Frank was also successful in raising unrelated youngsters introduced to his group. He was even named Chicago magazine’s “Father of the Year” in 1998.
Frank suffered from arthritic legs and while at the Lincoln Park Zoo he had an orthopedic surgery performed by the team surgeon of the NBA Chicago Bulls.
Since his arrival at the Louisville Zoo in 2002, Frank has received specialized care from cardiologists, physical therapists, radiologists and dentists, and was on medication for heart disease, high blood pressure and chronic age-related arthritis. He received a customized diet to accommodate his tooth loss and to minimize age-related loss of muscle mass.
Recently, Frank’s symptoms from chronic multi-joint arthritis could no longer be controlled by medication. Early this week Frank became unable or unwilling to move. Veterinary staff thoroughly examined Frank Wednesday and confirmed the progression of his disease. Because of the unresolveable nature of his illness and his rapidly deteriorating condition, Louisville Zoo veterinary staff humanely euthanized Frank on Thursday.
“This is the most difficult decision zoo professionals have to make,” Dr. Roy Burns said. “But we are confident that we made the right one. Frank lived a good, long life. But he just wore out.”
Gorilla Forest Supervisor Roby Elsner—who has cared for Frank for 11 years, including time at the Lincoln Park Zoo—said Frank was a special gorilla.
“Frank was a great father. Four of his daughters have proven to be excellent moms, one of which even adopts those not her own. Frank, too, in addition to being an excellent father, served as a surrogate dad and often took in babies that were hand-raised and needed to be reintroduced to other gorillas,” Elsner said. “That’s one of the reasons he earned Chicago magazine’s ‘Father of the Year’ in 1998.”
Frank had extraordinary social skills, and one of Elsner’s favorite memories was when Frank would back up to young gorillas and invite them to ride on his back and play. But at Louisville Zoo’s Gorilla Forest when he was with young blackback males Kicho, Jelani, Bengati and Cecil, the young boys were too big to ride on Frank’s back, “so when he would back into them, they would make one big conga line and walk connected around their exhibit,” Elsner said.
Frank was donated to the Lincoln Park Zoo on May 17, 1966, by Franklin Schmick, who once served as a Chicago Park District Commissioner. Frank was 2 years old and weighed 17 pounds upon arrival. He was raised in the nursery at the Children’s Zoo before moving to the Primate House. There, he continued to be raised by the keepers until his weight topped 100 pounds.
At 44, Frank was the third oldest gorilla at Louisville Zoo’s Gorilla Forest. Only female Helen, age 50, and male Timmy, age 49, are older. (Timmy is the oldest male in North America.) Frank was one of nine silverbacks in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums population over age 40.
“Frank is definitely part of the history and fabric of the Louisville Zoo and Gorilla Forest,” Elsner said. “It’s a very difficult time for the Zoo, especially for those of us who worked with Frank every day. He will be greatly missed by us and the entire community.”