One more quick blog item before I turn off the modem: Colo turns 50 on Friday.
If you grew up in Columbus, you know who Colo is — the world’s first gorilla born in captivity, at the Columbus Zoo. I wasn’t born until almost a year later, and no we don’t share a dad or anything, but it’s one of those things a kid growing up in Columbus would notice: Colo and I are almost the same age. Her first photos showed her in a frilly dress and hat, held on the hip of a zookeeper, like a toddler. Nowadays she lives in the zoo’s ape habitat, probably the best compromise with her native Africa that a captive gorilla is likely to get — a large, open-air pavilion/cage encompassing trees and climbing ropes, part of an extended family, many of them her own offspring.
While I can’t fault the Dispatch writer for the job he did, I’d like to see what a WashPost Style writer could do with the same material, as Colo’s life covers so much cultural territory in the way we regard animals. We’ve come a long way from those dresses and the original glass-fronted, concrete-floor cage she grew up in. Colo gave birth at 11, and her daughter was named Emmy, for the mayor at the time, M.E. Sensenbrenner. (Subsequent babies were Oscar and Toni.) Today the gorillas are given African-sounding names like Jontu, Macombo and Mosuba. Colo was taken from her mother at birth and reared by humans; today’s ape babies are frequently entrusted to their own kind. The opening of the pavilion was a huge step forward in the apes’ quality of life, although I remember some poignant moments, too — they didn’t know what to do on the ropes and trees, having never seen them before. (A radio station promptly sent over its Morning Zoo team to play on the ropes while the gorillas watched from a safe distance. Monkey see, monkey do, etc.)
I find gorilla-watching equal parts painful and fascinating. It’s hard to look into those faces; I identify too strongly. Once I was gazing perhaps a little too hard at one of the silverback males, and he rose up on his legs and beat his chest, Tarzan-style. I jumped a foot in the air.
Anyway, that’s Colo at 50, 100 in human years. A trailblazer from the time she was found lying, still in her amniotic sac, on the floor of her wild-born mother’s cage. Many happy returns.
Columbus Dispatch photo. Used without permission.