After Babs the gorilla died at age 30, keepers at Brookfield Zoo decided to allow surviving gorillas to mourn the most influential female in their social family. Onlookers were struck by the outpouring of emotion.
One by one Tuesday, the gorillas filed into the Tropic World building where Babs’ body lay, arms outstretched. Curator Melinda Pruett Jones called it a “gorilla wake.”
Babs’ 9-year-old daughter, Bana, was the first to approach the body, followed by Babs’ mother, Alpha, 43. Bana sat down, held Babs’ hand and stroked her mother’s stomach. Then she sat down and laid her head on Babs’ arm.
“It was like they used to do in the exhibit, lying side by side on the mountain,” keeper Betty Green said. “Then Bana rose up and looked at us and moved to Babs’ other side, tucked her head under the other arm, and stroked Babs’ stomach.”
Other gorillas also approached Babs and gently sniffed the body. Only the silverback male leader, Ramar, 36, stayed away.
Keepers said the display wasn’t surprising.
“She was the dominant female of the group, the peacekeeper, the disciplinarian, the one who kept things in a harmonious state,” Pruett Jones said.
Koola, 9, brought her infant daughter, whom Babs had showered with attention since her birth in August.
“Koola inspected Babs’ mouth for a while, then held her baby close to Babs, like she loved to do the last couple months, letting Babs admire her,” Green said.
Babs had an incurable kidney condition and was euthanized Tuesday. Keepers had recently seen a videotape of a gorilla wake at the Columbus, Ohio, zoo and decided they would do the same for Babs. Gorillas in the wild have been known to pay respects to their dead, keepers said.
“I had a headache for the rest of the day after all the tears I cried watching them,” Green said.
Here a photo of Babs and Bana taken in 1999.