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The ABQ BioPark is deeply saddened by the passing of beloved gorilla Huerfanita

Huerfanita died of complications from the bacterial infection affecting the Zoo’s gorillas, orangutans and siamangs

August 22, 2021 - The ABQ BioPark Zoo is grief-stricken by the loss of Huerfanita, a 48-year-old female western lowland gorilla, who passed away on August 21, 2021. She had recently contracted a contagious infection caused by Shigella bacteria. 

At 48 years old, Huerfanita was extraordinary. The median life expectancy for her species in AZA-accredited institutions is 39 years. Her advanced age likely made it harder for her body to handle the infection. After multiple rounds of treatments it became clear that she was not going to overcome the illness, and veterinary staff, zookeepers and BioPark leadership made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her.

“Huerfanita was a beloved member of our Zoo family and we are absolutely devastated by this loss,” said ABQ BioPark Director Stephanie Stowell. “She was a long-time Zoo resident and was a special favorite of her caretakers and guests.” 

The Zoo recently announced that Shigella had quickly spread among the BioPark's gorillas, orangutans and siamangs. Animal care staff have been treating all of the affected primates since discovering symptoms in Kojo, a male gorilla, on August 8. Kojo recovered soon after treatment and was feeling well enough to play in the outdoor yard this week along with his companions Samantha and Nia Lewa.

Most of the remaining apes are responding positively to their treatment, but the BioPark animal care team will remain guardedly optimistic until all other apes fully recover. Hasani, a 17-year-old male Western lowland gorilla is showing severe symptoms, and Johore, a female siamang, are both under close watch. Veterinarians report that Rue, Johore’s young male baby, is strong and clinging to mom.

“While we grieve for Huerfanita, we are hopeful that the rest of our apes will fully recover soon,” said Stowell. “They will continue to receive around-the-clock care from our devoted team of veterinarians and animal care professionals.” 

Huerfanita was born at the ABQ BioPark in 1973 and moved to the Bronx Zoo in 1978. She gave birth to her first offspring, Jamie, in 1985. Over the years, she not only welcomed eight of her own babies, but she took in eight gorilla orphans who were rejected by their mothers, just as she was. Her name means “little orphan” in Spanish.

She returned to the BioPark in 2006 with her last foster, Jack. She could often be seen clapping, blowing kisses or carrying a stuffed teddy bear. She enjoyed sitting in the window of the gorilla playroom interacting with guests. Huerfanita was a very special gorilla to the staff and guests of the ABQ BioPark.

Huerfanita is the second ape to pass due to complications from Shigella. Last week, the Zoo lost Brian, a 32-year-old siamang.