Ground-breaking gorilla dies in Basel Zoo aged 58

Goma with her son Tamtam in 1971. Father Pepe was also born in Basel Zoo Keystone

Goma, the first gorilla born in a European zoo and the second worldwide, has died in Basel aged 58. Her birth and unusual upbringing among humans had made headlines all around the world. 

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Goma in 2014 Keystone

The “happy and caring grandmother” died on Thursday from old age, Basel Zoo said in a statement on Friday (link in German). Until recently, she had been in exceptionally good health, it added, but in the past few weeks she had appeared tired and had lost her appetite. 

On Thursday morning she retired to her compartment and soon afterwards she didn’t react to the other members of her group, who repeatedly approached and gently nudged her. 

Goma was born on September 23, 1959. The zoo feared that her inexperienced mother would neglect her baby, so the director of the zoo at the time, Ernst Lang, took Goma home and raised her himself. 

When she was about one, she got company in the form of the similarly aged male, Pepe; both were later re-introduced to her family. As a result of her unusual childhood, Goma was treated as an outsider for a long time, the zoo said. But in the last 20 or so years of her life, she managed to integrate more and more into family life. 

In 1971, she gave birth to her only child. Her son Tamtam was the first gorilla born to a zoo-born gorilla and the first to be raised from birth by a silverback gorilla in a zoo. In addition, Goma raised her son without human help or interference, which also attracted international attention. 

Basel Zoo said 58 was a very high age for a non-human primate. Colo, the first gorilla born in a zoo, died last year in Ohio aged 60.

Goma at home with zoo director Ernst Lang and friend Basel Zoo


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