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Candice Rennels | (405) 425-0298 |

OKC Zoo News Releases


It is with great sadness that the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden announces the unexpected death of one of its adult female Western lowland gorillas, Kelele, 24. Zoo caretakers discovered Kelele in her habitat at the OKC Zoo’s Great EscApe on Friday, January 11, at approximately 9 p.m.

Friday morning, animal caretakers observed that Kelele was lethargic, uninterested in eating and showed signs of discomfort when she tried to move. The veterinary care team visually examined Kelele and administered pain medication for the discomfort. The animal and vet care teams continued to monitor her throughout the day and into the night. At approximately 9 p.m., a caretaker discovered Kelele unresponsive in her habitat. Before transporting Kelele to the Zoo’s Joan Kirkpatrick Animal hospital, caretakers allowed her gorilla family time to mourn their troop member.

The OKC Zoo’s veterinary team performed a necropsy (animal autopsy, including histopathology) the next morning and discovered the cause of Kelele’s death was mesenteric root torsion (intestinal twist). The “twist” cuts off blood vessels, compromising the blood supply to the intestines, quickly releasing toxins into the blood stream. Kelele’s condition was severe and progressed quickly. Prior to Friday’s events, she appeared to be in good health and was not showing any other symptoms. Rare in both human and veterinary medicine, there is little known about what causes mesenteric root torsion.

“Kelele was an incredible animal and ambassador for her species, and she will be missed by many,” said Kimberly Lesser, OKC Zoo’s animal curator. “The Zoo’s veterinary and animal care teams are dedicated to providing the best care and welfare possible to the animals entrusted to us. We have the honor of caring for these amazing animals through most all life stages and unfortunately death is part of this process.”

Kelele was born at the Toledo Zoo and arrived at the OKC Zoo in 2000 as part of a breeding recommendation made by the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). On February 14, 2013, Kelele gave birth to her only offspring, a male named Leom, at the Zoo’s Great EscApe. Leom was named in honor of his parents, Kelele and father, Bom Bom, who died of cardiac arrest in July 2012. Animal caretakers report that Leom is doing well and spending time with his adoptive father Togo and young troop mate, Rubi.

The median life expectancy for female Western lowland gorillas according to the AZA’s Species Survival Statistics is 38.3 years.

Native to West Africa, Western lowland gorillas are threatened by disease, poaching and habitat destruction. By 2008, the population of Western lowland gorillas was reduced by 80 percent, classifying their species as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

The OKC Zoo works with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) to provide funds to help protect mountain and Grauer’s gorillas in their native habitat. This money has been used to support operation of the Karisoke Research Center, which is the base for DFGFI’s field activities. The mountain gorilla population protected by DFGFI is the only wild population of gorillas that is increasing. The Zoo also hosts Give for Gorillas Cell Phone Challenge, the annual program encourages the community to donate old cell phones and other electronic devices to be recycled in support of gorilla conservation. The mining of coltan, a substance frequently used in small electronics, continues to cause destruction of gorilla habitat. Net proceeds raised from the Cell Phone Challenge go to DFGFI. Electronic devices are accepted year-round at the Zoo’s guest services office in the entry plaza.

The public is invited to post photos and memories of Kelele on social media at Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35, the Oklahoma City Zoo is a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the American Alliance of Museums, Oklahoma City’s Adventure District and an Adventure Road partner. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Regular admission is $11 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. Stay up-to-date with the Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and by visiting Our Stories. Zoo fans can support the OKC Zoo by becoming Oklahoma Zoological Society members at or in-person at the Zoo! To learn more about these and other happenings, call (405) 424-3344 or visit


For photos related to this news release, click here.

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