Growing old gracefully

Meet our golden oldies

“Out with the old and in with the new” is a common expression at this time of year. But many old things are cherished, and we want to keep them for as long as we can. Among those are most definitely our beloved older animals at Zoo Berlin.

A retirement home for animals

The phenomenon of elderly animals really only occurs where animals are kept in the care of humans. In the wild, these creatures would not usually live long enough to develop age-related ailments such as cancer, cataracts or arthritis. Natural selection ensures that sick or decrepit individuals quickly die off. They are either caught by predators, ousted by rivals, or starve because they are unable to catch sufficient food. In the luxurious setting of a zoo, on the other hand, where there are regular meals, good medical care, and no predators, animals can live up to a third longer than they would in their natural habitat. That means zoo animals often exhibit signs of old age that are rarely or never witnessed in the wild.

Young at heart

In old age, bodies no longer work as well as they did in younger years – they also exhibit visible signs of ageing. This can be a PR challenge for zoos, as visitors often get concerned when they see a bony old horse or a toothless gorilla. But, just like humans, many animals still lead healthy and happy lives in their old age. They may have the odd twinge here or there, but thanks to regular house calls from the doctor, the senior citizens at Zoo and Tierpark Berlin generally enjoy their twilight years in safe, comfortable surroundings.

Age before beauty

Zoo Berlin is proud of its golden oldies and certainly has no desire to hide them away. Old age and death are as much a part of the circle of life as birth. So the next time you meet one of the doddery denizens of Zoo Berlin, be sure to take a moment to congratulate them on reaching such a grand old age!

Allow us to introduce Zoo Berlin’s three oldest animals:

1. Ingo the flamingo (71)

The Zoo’s oldest inhabitant is still pretty in pink. The ring around Ingo the flamingo’s ankle shows that he is a proud 71 years old. The average life expectancy of flamingos in the wild is around 30, although some individuals have lived to be as old as 50.

2. Fatou the gorilla (60)

The Zoo’s oldest mammal is something of a celebrity – partly because of her eventful past. A sailor is said to have taken Fatou by ship from Africa to France, where he handed her over to a pub landlady in payment of his bill. After several detours, in 1959 Fatou arrived at Zoo Berlin. Along with another female gorilla – Trudy from Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas – Fatou is the oldest gorilla in the world!

3. Tanja the Asian elephant (54)

Tanja was born in India. Upon arrival in Europe, she toured with Circus Krone before settling at Zoo Berlin in 1974. Tanja is the matriarch of the Zoo’s herd. Tanja’s age does show – every now and again she gets pain in her hip and doesn’t like to lie down to sleep. The keepers have therefore built her a pile of sand to lean up against – a kind of Zimmer frame for elderly elephants!

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