San Diego Zoo celebrates 60th birthday of second-oldest gorilla in the world

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — Staff at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tuesday celebrated the 60th birthday of the second-oldest gorilla in the world.

Vila is believed to have been born in October 1957 in the Congo. After arriving in the U.S., she was hand-raised at the San Diego Zoo and later moved to the Safari Park.

Vila is the matriarch of five generations and has served as a surrogate mother for several hand-raised western lowland gorillas. Keepers at the park said she is in excellent health and continues to thrive.

A Tea for Two-themed birthday party also celebrated the first year for another member of the troop, named Leslie.

"The gorillas, I think, enjoyed the party immensely,” said Peggy Sexton, lead keeper in the mammal department at the park. "They’ve destroyed all the decorations and gotten all the goodies, and they’ll be playing with the stuff all day. So, it’s a big day for them.”

Besides decorations, the gorillas were provided with gift boxes, streamers and a cardboard "castle.” Animal care staff and volunteers stuffed paper cups and gourds with popcorn, sunflower seeds and Cheerios for the entire troop to enjoy, and nutrition staff placed six multicolored cakes — made of yams, carrots and assorted fruits — around the habitat, making it one of the most elaborate parties ever thrown for the gorilla troop.

Other gorillas born in 1957 live in zoos in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Berlin, Germany.

Gorillas are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Threats include people hunting gorillas for bush meat and loss of habitat due to logging and mining.

Categories: Local San Diego News