Home Law Judge rules in favor of the Cincinnati Zoo regarding possession of one of its former gorillas

Judge rules in favor of the Cincinnati Zoo regarding possession of one of its former gorillas

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Cincinnati Zoo. Photo Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden sued The Gorilla Foundation to demand the return of their gorilla Ndume, who had been loaned as a possible mate for the zoo’s famous Koko.

The longtime companion of Koko, the famous gorilla who learned sign language, must be returned to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden after a ruling in a Northern California court on Feb. 1.

Judge Richard Seeborg ruled that Ndume, a western lowland gorilla who had been considered a possible mate for Koko, was no longer permitted to stay in the custody of The Gorilla Foundation following Koko’s death in June 2018.

The foundation had agreed in 2015 to move Ndume to another organization’s care if he outlived Koko, but has since refused on the grounds that the stress of moving Ndume may result in a flare-up of a chronic infection he carries, which could be fatal.

The Cincinnati Zoo did not respond with comments on the case as of publication date, nor did The Gorilla Foundation. Seeborg’s office declined to speak on the case outside of official court records, but did provide Seeborg’s official opinion and order for Ndume to be moved.

“Significantly, it is undisputed that TGF (The Gorilla Foundation) signed the 2015 agreement less than 3 years before the present dispute arose,” the official opinion reads. “At that time, TGF already knew of Ndume’s Balantidium Coli infection. It already understood that if Koko—who was ten years older than Ndume—did not survive him, Ndume would be transferred away from TGF upon her death.”

Ndume had been on loan to the foundation with the intent that he and Koko would mate and reproduce, but that never happened. The zoo sued the foundation after arrangements were not approved for Ndume to be moved, which it called a violation of their written agreement from 2015.

According to the order from Seeborg’s office, the agreement between the zoo and the foundation had specified that Ndume would be relocated to an institution with accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which would be chosen by the Cincinnati Zoo along with the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, an organization dedicated to gorilla conservation.

“TGF is not an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited institution, and there is no indication it ever intended to seek such accreditation,” Seeborg said in the opinion.

Official arrangements for Ndume to be moved have still not been made, but the ruling states the foundation must allow him to be returned to Cincinnati despite concerns about the gorilla’s health. The zoo has provided its own experts who disagree that moving Ndume is a risk, according to Seeborg’s opinion.

Ndume was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 1981 and was loaned to The Gorilla Foundation ten years later. The Gorilla Foundation was founded by Dr. Francine Patterson, the woman who famously taught Koko sign language and who served as the official defendant in the case regarding Ndume.

Ndume was not the first male gorilla Koko had been paired with. The foundation had also held a male gorilla named Michael who died in 2000, but he and Koko had not shown any interest in mating.

More information on Ndume and his care can be found at koko.org/ndume.

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