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Judge: Ndume the gorilla must come home to Cincinnati Zoo by June 13

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Posted at 10:44 PM, Jun 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-08 23:44:53-04

Despite The Gorilla Foundation’s insistence that a Cincinnati-born gorilla should not be taken from its California-based facility, a federal judge ruled Friday that Ndume the gorilla should be returned to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden by June 13.

Ndume, 37, became the object of a tug-of-war between the two groups after the June 19, 2018 death of his longtime companion Koko, a gorilla believed by some to have successfully learned sign language. He remained at the Gorilla Foundation without the company of other gorillas — something Gorilla Species Survival Program chair Kristen Lukas said “is terrible for gorillas” in a court filing.

The Cincinnati Zoo announced in August 2018 it planned to bring him home “as soon as possible,” earning the rare support of animal rights activists at PETA. His eventual return had been a provision of the original 1991 contract in which the zoo agreed to loan Ndume to The Gorilla Foundation as a companion for Koko until her death.

By the end of October, however, the plan was scrambled and a lawsuit had been filed in federal court.

According to the zoo, The Gorilla Foundation announced in a letter it did not intend to relinquish Ndume and later refused to allow zoo representatives to come to the facility to build a crate for the gorilla’s transportation.

In its own filings, The Gorilla Foundation cited concern over Ndume’s health in his advanced age — captive gorillas live up to about 40 years — as the reason it did not want him moved.

U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg recommended out-of-court mediation in December. By March, the two groups had agreed on a detailed plan to move the gorilla safely by May 13. The transfer would later be delayed until June 4.

And then, on June 5, The Gorilla Foundation claimed Ndume could not be moved because it had discovered a parasite known as B. coli in his feces.

B. coli causes issues such as diarrhea and abdominal pain in humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but officials with the Cincinnati Zoo and veterinarians from other zoos said it's much more common in apes. Cincinnati Zoo director of animal health Dr. Mark Campbell argued nearly all gorillas in captivity have B. coli and do not experience serious health complications as a result.

The Gorilla Foundation and experts cited in its court filings responded that Ndume should stay behind and receive weeks of treatment — if not, he could die due to the stress of the transfer.

Seeborg was unconvinced, according to court documents filed Friday.

“This Court hereby orders TGF to cooperate in good faith and in all respects to effectuate the transfer of Ndume from California to Ohio on June 13, 2019,” he wrote in a court order.