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'Matriarch' gorilla at Miami zoo dies at age of nearly 50

(Reuters) - Zoo Miami's aging "matriarch" gorilla, Josephine, reported to be the grandmother of a male silverback slain in Cincinnati when a young boy fell into its enclosure, died on Wednesday just before reaching the age of 50.

The loss of Josephine marked the third death of an African lowland gorilla on display at a U.S. zoo this month, including Tuesday's demise of a 60-year-old female named Colo in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday.

Josephine, who was born in the wild in 1967 and arrived in 1983 at Miami's zoo, had been in declining health in recent years, with medical tests showing no chance for recovery from various terminal conditions, the zoo said in a statement.

After finding her barely able to move on Wednesday morning, zoo staff "made the very difficult decision to humanely euthanize her," and the procedure was performed later in the day, according to the statement.

Josephine gained attention in 1984 by giving birth to the first gorilla born in captivity in Miami. Twenty-five years later doctors performed rare cataract surgery on Josephine, who by then was nearly blind, implanting two artificial human lenses in her eyes to successfully restore her vision.

But Josephine was also notable for her lineage to a gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo named Harambe, who was shot to death by zoo staff last May 28, moments after a young boy climbed a barrier and fell into the ape's enclosure.

According to the Miami Herald and other local media, Josephine's offspring, a male named Moja, eventually was moved to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas, where he sired several other gorillas in captivity, including Harambe.

Josephine's death comes a day after Colo, who was the first gorilla born in captivity and lived to become the oldest known member of her species, was found dead in her enclosure at the Columbus Zoo.

Earlier this month, a 32-year-old male gorilla named Bebac, died after being diagnosed as suffering from heart disease.

Gorillas can live for 50 years or more, both in the wild and captivity, though such a long lifespan is rare. They rank as the world's largest primates and are listed as endangered due to loss of habitat, poaching and susceptibility to disease.

There are approximately 350 gorillas of all species on display in accredited U.S. zoos, and an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 Western lowland gorillas left in the wild.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

 

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