Today we celebrate Samantha the gorilla’s 45th birthday!
There are about four reptiles living at the Zoo today that have estimated ages older than Samantha, but she is the oldest animal with a confirmed birth date and the oldest non-reptile. Daughter of the legendary founder gorillas King Tut and Penelope, Samantha was born here on January 31, 1970. She and another gorilla, Sam, were born about a week apart and they were the first two gorilla babies born and raised at the Cincinnati Zoo. They were hand raised with the assistance of Good Samaritan Hospital, hence the names Sam and Samantha.They were huge celebrities featured in dozens of articles, photos, postcards and fanfare.
Samantha has been here to experience all of the changes in philosophy that have transformed the Zoo from an old school menagerie to a modern day zoo. Born in the old Ape House in 1970 where the gorillas lived inside year round, Samantha moved to the first naturalistic outdoor gorilla habitat anywhere, Gorilla World, in 1978.
She has experienced innovations in animal nutrition from a high fruit-based diet to today’s high variety bulky green fiber-rich nutritionally balanced diet. She has also experienced the start of comprehensive animal enrichment efforts at the Zoo that provide for animal welfare as much as their physical needs. Over 10 years ago, she was here when we began formal operant conditioning programs at the Zoo as well.
Samantha has also experienced the change over from primarily pulling baby gorillas for hand-rearing to encouraging mother-rearing through improved husbandry and social behavior management. She is the best mother gorilla in the history of the Zoo and has given birth to six gorillas. Samantha’s first daughter, Madge, was born in the early 1980s. She was named after the late great iconic long time Zoo Volunteer Madge Van Buskirk.
Probably the most intelligent gorilla at the Zoo, Samantha is one of the most socially savvy gorillas, too. She has long been the strong matriarchal leader no matter which individuals are in her group. Samantha has lived with over 36 individual gorillas including: Sam, Gigi, Ramses, Kamari, Amani, Rosie, Penelope, Hatari, Tara, Mahari, Bibi, Madge, Muke, Mlinzi, Babec, Ndume, Kweli, Harry, Jackie, Tufani, Colossus, Kima Kubwa, Chaka, Samson, Chewie, Mara, Kijito, Kicho, Cecil, Shanta, Jomo, Bakari, Asha, Anju, Gladys and Mondika. In recent years, she has toned her leadership role back some, but is still respected among the other gorillas.
Samantha has served as an inspirational ambassador for both ex situ and in situ gorilla conservation programs and she is revered among the primate staff and her followers. I even named my daughter after her. (By the way, if you ever should name your daughter after a gorilla, apparently you should not tell her fourth grade class that fact during a visit to the Zoo. I thought it was cool, but being called “gorilla girl” by mean little boys can be a hard thing to live with, I hear.)
At 45 years old, Samantha still seems to be going strong. She is engaged in all of our programs, including operant conditioning, and is one of the best students. In recent years, she has been trained for awake cardiac ultrasound exams and the ticker is looking good. Samantha has seen it all and hopefully she sticks around for a long while to see a whole lot more.
13 thoughts on “Samantha: The Grand Old Lady of the Cincinnati Zoo”
Ron, this is a good article! And you mention our good friend, Madge. I agree with your description of Miss Madge: great, iconic, long time Zoo volunteer”.. She was so much to many.
We will surely miss MVB. Donating to the Cincinnati Zoo Gorilla Fund is a good tribute to Madge!
Loved this article. When Sam and Samantha were babies I had the opportunity to pet them and introduce them to my niece and nephew who also pet them. I will have to send this to them to bring back a great childhood memory. Its good to know Samantha is going strong.
When Samantha was born I was a senior in HS. Her picture was on a magazine cover and I kept it for a long time. My own daughter was born later that year and loved hearing about the gorilla that was the Sam age she was. Sam will always hold a Spreckels place in my heart. The picture of Sam and Samantha at Good Sam are priceless.
Priceless Love God
This was a wonderful read! Happy birthday Samantha and here’s to many more
My heart is warmed! I was a volunteer “gorilla nurse” for Sam and Samantha in 1970 and sat in the cage and helped care for them. I still have a plaque and pin as a wonderful memory. What a privilege!
Both my parent worked at the zoo at the time I was born. I was born 2 weeks before Samantha. Her birth was listed in what was called The Cincinnati Zoo Notes. As well as mine. There was a small article announcing her birth and congratulating my parents on my birth. It’s a cool to have been acknowledged along with such a wonderful animal.
My girl… Just dropping a line for my favorite girl.. We share the same birthday…. Im 5 years older…. But that’s my girl…
When she was born my future wife Donna was a student nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital and helped take care of her on her off time.
I see you don’t monetize your page, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra
cash every month. You can use the best adsense alternative for any type of website (they approve all websites), for more details simply search in gooogle:
boorfe’s tips monetize your website
“Thank you Ron for the walk down memory lane. Your love for “our zoo” gorillas always is special.
It is great to know that Samantha is still doing good. We can all learn from her. Samantha is a great Mother and Grandmother. Happy Birthday
We can hope that the next generation can be a lot like Samantha.