September 9, 2015, Colorado Springs, CO – Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo said an unexpected farewell to their 31-year-old male silverback gorilla, Rafiki. A few days ago it appeared that Rafiki wasn’t feeling well, so yesterday veterinary staff decided to do a full check up. During the procedure it was discovered that he had both severe kidney failure and gastrointestinal disease, but the exact cause of death is still unknown. Despite veterinary care and consults with gorilla veterinary advisors, he passed away this afternoon. A full necropsy will be performed to diagnose what led to his decline in health. His sudden loss is felt by the entire Zoo family.

“Rafiki was the most amazing silverback gorilla,” Dina Bredahl, Animal Care Manager said. “He took great care of his troop, he was a playful and gentle father, and his sheer size and larger-than-life personality made such an unforgettable impression on all of us.”

Rafiki was born at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in LaProfonde Rue, Jersey (part of the U.K.), in March 1984; he also lived at the Saint Louis Zoo before coming to Colorado Springs in March 2005.

Rafiki was well known to Zoo guests as “the thinker,” as he often posed like the famous statue. Among animal care staff he was best known for having a strong disposition, keeping a watchful eye over all six members of his troop and being enthusiastic about participating in training with his keepers.

“Rafiki was great about participating in positive reinforcement training for both his own health care and for behaviors that helped him connect with guests,” Bredahl said. “So many guests have seen Rafiki open his mouth just inches away from them or target to the glass, so they could have a close encounter with a silverback gorilla.”

In the 10 years that Rafiki was at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, he did a fantastic job in his main role as a species ambassador. He captivated hundreds of thousands of guests, and the Zoo hopes he inspired them to care about his critically endangered wild counterparts.

The Zoo felt it was important that Rafiki’s troop had the opportunity to spend time with him after he passed, and each gorilla appeared to grieve for him in their own way. His legacy lives on in his three offspring, son Umande (9), who currently lives at the Lincoln Park Zoo, daughter Tumani (8) and son Dembe (3), who both reside at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s ONLY mountain zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s hope that guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Of the 224 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just nine operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues and donations for funding.