Senior citizens meet for gorilla’s birthday

Lady of the apes Fatou is 59 years old and can even fix hearts.

Our senior primate Fatou celebrated her 59th birthday on the morning of the 13th April at 11am in her outdoor area at the zoo, making her the second oldest gorilla in the world. The oldest gorilla, Colo, from the zoo in Ohio, is just four months older.

Fatou celebrated with a beautifully decorated gift hamper that was filled with healthy delights such as pineapples, lettuce, dandelions and bananas.

A gorilla with a long history: coming to the zoo at the age of two, she later gave birth to Dufte, the first gorilla to be raised in Berlin, in 1974 and over the years she has built up a large fan base that gathered for her 59th birthday.

Fatou’s most faithful companion is probably Elisabeth Engel. The 88-year-old from Berlin has known Fatou right from the beginning and has been the primate’s godmother for many years, visiting her protégé every weekend at the zoo. The gorilla is very close to her heart – in the most literal sense of the word: “A while ago, I had severe heart valve problems, and one day, I was suddenly better again! The doctor said Fatou has fixed my heart,” said the senior citizen. Engel sees it as her duty to visit the gorilla regularly, she says, “and this duty is a great pleasure – it has enabled me to get better”. So, not only can Fatou send hearts racing, she can also fix them – a true angel! Of course, Elisabeth Engel could not miss Fatou’s big day. She is bringing her niece along all the way from Heidelberg, so that she can attend this extra-exclusive celebration with her.

Zoo director Dr Andreas Knieriem is delighted that the female ape is still in good health despite her old age: “This senior gorilla’s great day is a reminder of how important it is to protect this species. The clearing of the rainforest is destroying more and more vital living space for the great apes. Poaching and the lethal Ebola virus are further serious dangers for the gorilla population in the wild. All gorilla species are at risk of extinction. Fatou’s birthday is also an occasion to make people more aware of this issue.”

Up to two metres in height, gorillas are the largest of the great apes on earth today, yet there are just 100,000 of them estimated to still be in existence in the wild.