CINCINNATI (CBS SF/AP) — The Cincinnati Zoo welcomed back a 37-year-old male silverback gorilla after a bitter federal court custody battle with the Bay Area’s Gorilla Foundation.
The zoo said Ndume arrived Friday morning and was settling in behind the scenes in its Gorilla World area.
“We are thrilled that Ndume is finally here,” Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard said in a statement. “We’ve been preparing for his arrival for many months and are ready to offer him an environment, schedule and social status that work for him.”
The Gorilla Foundation in California was under federal court order to transfer Ndume on Thursday for a flight to Ohio. He was loaned in 1991 to be a companion for Koko, the gorilla famed for learning sign language. Cincinnati Zoo officials sought Ndume’s return after Koko died last June.
“Gorillas require and desire to be near other gorillas,” said the Zoo’s Curator of Primates, Ron Evans. “I first met Ndume when he was 3 years old and have followed him on his life journey. He provided a great service for Koko as a gorilla companion, and we’re so happy that he can now rejoin our gorilla family.”
The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals supported Ndume’s return to Cincinnati and said in a statement that he’s back in his home, supported by expert care and the chance to socialize with other gorillas.
He is in close proximity to the Zoo’s two gorilla groups, and the plan is for him to eventually form a third group. Introductions will be done at his pace, and the gorilla team will assess which females are the best fit for him.
“It may be many weeks before the public can see Ndume,” Evans said. “Like with all new gorillas, we want to make sure that he is comfortable with his new home, keepers, and routines before introducing him to zoo guests. Patience is always the key when acclimating new gorillas.”
The Gorilla Foundation contended the transfer would harm Ndume. U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco ruled in February that the gorilla should be returned .
The foundation said this week it was sad Ndume was moving .
The Cincinnati Zoo says Ndume is among 50 gorillas born there. Ndume is a western lowland gorilla , which are critically endangered.