Gorilla “Kingdom” loses king

I was saddened to hear the news that London Zoo’s male gorilla Bobby was found dead on Friday morning, 5th December. The death of any animal in a zoo is a tragedy, and it will no doubt be profoundly distressing for Bobby’s keepers and cagemates. I have not yet learnt the cause of Bobby’s death (at the relatively young age of 25), but I would not be surprised if it was associated with the heart problems that are being frequently diagnosed in male gorillas in captivity – health problems that could well be yet another product of an unnatural and unsuitable captive lifestyle.

Last year, I commented on the apparently poor fund-raising return from London Zoo’s Gorilla “Kingdom” (see http://www.bornfree.org.uk/blog/?p=66). I feel compelled to revisit this issue in the light of Bobby’s death, to see exactly what legacy he leaves for his wild counterparts. The latest figures (from 18 Nov 2008) show that £37,085 in donations for field conservation has been received at the £5.3 million exhibit since it opened in March 2007, roughly equating to just 2 pence per visitor (1,108,541 for the year 07-08). If the original £5.3m had been invested at a (conservative) rate of 4%, it would have generated over £200,000 last year for gorillas – more than 5 times the donations.

So it seems that, sadly, Bobby’s recent life (and death) as an “ambassador” in captivity does not amount to much in terms of financial return for conservation in the wild. Moreover, what price can be put on a lifetime’s confinement? All I know is that at this rate of return it would take zoos an inordinately long time to make a dent in the problems facing gorillas in the wild.

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