World’s oldest gorilla celebrates 60th birthday in Berlin

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Fatou, the oldest gorilla in Europe, celebrated her 60th birthday at the Berlin Zoo on Thursday. The grand dame was feted with a buffet of pineapple, bananas, grapes and of course – her favorite – a cake made of cooked rice and raisins.

“She loves sweets,” said Ruben Gralki, the deputy head of the great ape section at the zoo, according to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. “Normally gorillas eat only green plants.”

At Fatou’s birthday party, her caretakers regaled guests with the story of how she came to Berlin 58 years ago. The tale goes back to a drunken French sailor who could not pay his exorbitant bill at a bar in Marseille. Instead he gave the barkeeper a baby gorilla he had picked up on a recent trip to West Africa. The very confused woman  then called the Berlin Zoo to take care of the small animal.

When Fatou arrived in Berlin, a caretaker brought male gorilla Knorke to Tempelhof airport to pick her up. The two apes would remain inseparable for decades.

Although Knorke died in 2003, Fatou is still in good health to this day. Together with Trudy from the Little Rock Zoo in the US state of Arkansas, she is tied as the oldest known gorilla in the world.

All species of gorilla are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Gorillas have long been poached for their meat, and large parts of the population have been affected by diseases that also affect humans, like Ebola.

In October 2007, nations with some of the world’s largest gorilla populations, including Rwanda, Gabon, Nigeria, and Uganda signed the “Gorilla Agreement” at a summit in Bonn, Germany. With help from  the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences and conservation group GRASP, the treaty is a binding agreement aimed at ending poaching and protecting gorilla habitats.