Colo at 50.

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. colo.jpgHer 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.

Posted at 12:32 pm in Current events |

5 responses to “Colo at 50.”

  1. mary said on December 18, 2006 at 12:36 pm

    I once watched an orangutan for a long morning while my preschooler was in zoo camp. They catch your eye too, and are pretty haunting. So close.

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  2. MarkH said on December 18, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    When our son was a preschooler, we went to the Denver Zoo and watched the apes for awhile. One rather large one was sitting with his back to the glass in front of me. Perhaps sensing I was there, he turned around, gave me look, spit up something awful-looking in the palm of his hand and actually held it up for my perusal. I kid you not. Stunned, to say the least, I later suspected it actually one of those apes from the train scene in “Trading Places”.

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  3. brian stouder said on December 18, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    I always brag about the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo – but the Columbus zoo is no doubt the finest zoo we’ve ever visited (we went there with the young folks last summer); the gorilla display is simply marvelous – and the residents there put on quite the show.

    Leaving aside all the larger cultural implications (and certainly, an interesting essay could be written about the evolution of zoos, so to speak) – we loved how the place has lots of flora and fauna and shaded wooden paths, as opposed to blacktop and cement; and the various displays are arranged so that you continually arrive at different vantage points as you walk down the paths. The zoo always seemed to offer more, and then more again.

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  4. brian stouder said on December 18, 2006 at 5:57 pm

    Nance – did you take the Cash Cab quiz?

    I followed your link, took the quiz – and scored 11 out of 12. Missed one about a ‘classic comedy movie’…and the quiz cautions that “there are no multiple choice questions in the Cab”

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  5. Laura said on December 18, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    I was in first grade when I entered the Columbus Zoo’s contest to name Colo’s baby. I was so shocked when the powers that be chose Emmy over my entry, Collette. I’m still not quite over it.

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