Bristol Zoo Gardens is very sad to announce that one of its most remarkable gorillas has died.
Romina, one of the Zoo’s eight western lowland gorillas, had become unwell and a CT scan last night revealed that she had a large mass in her abdomen.
A team of specialists worked alongside zoo vets to carry out the scan which identified what is believed to be an advanced cancerous tumour. Vets and keepers decided that the kindest course of action was to put her to sleep. She was 38 years old.
Keepers described Romina as a remarkable gorilla, most recently for her vital role in stepping-in as a foster mother to Afia; a baby gorilla born by caesarean section at the Zoo almost three years ago.
Afia’s birth-mother, Kera, was too ill to look after her following her birth, and, after initially being hand-reared by keepers, Romina took over as Afia’s surrogate. Since then she had cared for Afia as if she was her own baby.
But in recent months Romina’s health deteriorated and, despite treatment by zoo vets, external specialists and her keepers, her condition worsened.
John Partridge, senior curator of animals, said: “This is a terribly sad day for us. Romina was the most gentle and nurturing of all our gorillas and she had a lovely and endearing nature.
“She adopted Afia and treated her as if she was her own baby and has continued to do so every day. It has been tremendously moving to witness their mother and daughter relationship.
“She had a good life here and we did everything we could to treat her, but we didn’t want her to suffer and because of this we had to make the difficult decision to put her to sleep.”
Keepers now expect the other gorillas will help to look after Afia.
Romina was born in Rome and came to Bristol in November 2001 where she lived happily with her fellow western lowland gorillas. She was the first gorilla in the world to undergo cataract operations in 2002 which completely restored her sight.
Lynsey Bugg, curator of mammals, said: “The cataract surgery really transformed her. Before the surgery, because she only had peripheral vision, she was quite introverted and wouldn’t interact much with the other gorillas. Once her sight was restored she became much more outgoing and sociable.”
In 2005 Romina had a daughter, Namoki, who is now at Belfast Zoo where she has had her own daughter, Olivia.
“Romina quickly took to being a mum to Namoki” added Lynsey. “She had a very nurturing and protective nature so we knew she would be ideal to look after Afia when we needed a surrogate in 2016.
“She was always very co-operative with her keepers and she really loved her food, particularly anything cooked or steamed. She especially liked cooked potatoes which she was given occasionally as a treat.
"She has always been very close to our silverback, Jock, from the day he arrived in 2003. She was his favourite female and he will miss her very much.”
Zoo guests would often see Romina wrapped up or parading around in a blanket or sheet. While recovering from cataract surgery, keepers offered Romina blankets instead of straw and wood wool, to reduce the risk of dust affecting her eyes. Romina enjoyed them so much that keepers continued to offer the group blankets and sheets and they always remained a firm favourite with Romina.
Bristol Zoo has been home to gorillas since the arrival of its first young male, Alfred, in the 1930s, and the Zoo has kept them almost continuously ever since.
John Partridge added: “Naturally this means that, over the years, we have had to say goodbye to a number of dear gorillas as the cycle of life continues. However, we have a long and successful history of breeding gorillas, as is evident in the number of babies we have had born over the years, particularly in recent years. We have also successfully integrated a number of new gorillas to the group, including Kera, Touni and most recently, Kala,
“In the future we hope to welcome many more new arrivals to the troop, but we will always remember those gorillas we have lost, and Romina will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her.”
Bristol Zoological Society, which runs Bristol Zoo, helps conserve and protect gorillas in the wild, in Cameroon, where they are threatened by the loss of their forest habitat as well as from poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the Zoo but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.
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