May 16, 2016 Calgary Zoo

Passing of a Patriarch

Calgary Zoo’s silverback Kakinga eating outside.

We are deeply saddened to share that silverback gorilla, Kakinga, passed away Saturday night at the age of 37. Often called the zoo’s gentle giant, Kakinga was an exceptional silverback; a kind, loving, protective and diligent leader.

Our Veterinary team has determined he died as a result of developing a large tear in his aorta which caused the sac around his heart to become filled with blood and ultimately stopped his heart. This is one of the well-recognized causes of mortality in gorillas, especially males.

Kakinga was born December 1, 1978 at the Jersey Zoo in the United Kingdom and arrived at the Calgary Zoo in 1984. After nine years, he transitioned into the role of silverback, or leader of the troop in 1993, a role he held for the past 23 years.

During his time as silverback, he fathered 13 offspring, eight of which are surviving with the most recent being born just this past March at our zoo. Of those eight, five are males and three are females.

Gentle giant Kakinga has been a doting father- including with 2008 baby Yewande, pictured here.

Gentle giant Kakinga has been a doting father- including with 2008 baby Yewande, pictured here.

But Kakinga is known for more than just his impressive genetics. His calm and gentle natured endeared him to all zoo staff who cared for him. He was very involved in his role as leader of the troop, acting as a peacekeeper, a protector and in some very tender moments, a father.

To those guests who spent many visits and much time watching the troop interact, Kakinga was always present, larger than life. Many placed their hands on the glass measuring their hands to his, marveling at his size and strength and the shiny cascade of silver hair that gave him his distinct markings.

The zoo's silverback had a steely gaze, but had moments of tenderness and could be quite gentle.

The zoo’s silverback had a steely gaze, but had moments of tenderness and could be quite gentle.

Kakinga was one of the zoo’s most beloved animals and he will be dearly missed by all who came to know the gentle giant.

For those who wish to express their condolences, we kindly as that you look to recycle an old cell phone. By taking this small action, you are helping to protect wild gorilla habitat, so that other silverbacks, like Kakinga, have a place to call home.

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Comments (25)

  1. Lisa Plintz

    We are so deeply saddened to hear of Kakinga’s passing. Our family enjoyed many hours of enjoyment watching him interact with his troop. Rest in peace.

  2. Krista

    So sorry to hear of Kakinga’s passing. 🙁 When my mom was alive she would tease my kids that Kakinga was her boyfriend (they nick named him Joe) He is in heaven now with mom. Rest in peace Joe.

  3. Jessie

    You will be missed greatly dear Kakinga. I’m thankful to have seen you many times before you left us ❤️

  4. Shannon

    So, so very sad. Kakinga was my all time favorite. So powerful, so strong. He will be deeply missed. My condolences to all the keepers at the zoo. You must be heartbroken. 🙁

  5. Susan Kostyniuk

    My sincere condolences to all at the zoo and each and every person who stopped by to visit with him over the years. He will be sadly missed.

  6. Lisa Sinclair

    Oh how I will miss him. I remember as a younger self how he would run and bang up against the window and scare everyone. He always made me smile. He was a wonderful father, I just watched him with the new baby and have been witness to the love he showed his troop. Bless him

  7. Edith Dumanowski

    I am deeply saddened by Kakinga’s passing. He was so handsome! I love this Gorrila house and visit at least twice a year. He will be deeply missed! My condolences to the Calgary Zoo.

  8. Wilson Family

    Our hearts are broken. We have loved Kakinga since the beginning and just recently my 26 year old son went to the zoo for the first time in quite awhile.
    The best part he said, was that Kakinga was still alive.
    My heart goes out to all of you at the Calgary Zoo who have been so involved in his daily life for so many years. If tears are rolling down my cheeks, I cannot imagine your devastation.
    RIP big guy!
    The wilson Family

  9. Carol

    Can you share with how the other gorillas are reacting on the loss of their leader?
    Will they exhibit be closed for awhile for the tribe to adjust?

    • Calgary Zoo

      Hi Carol, the habitat will not be closed while the troop adjusts, as their daily routine is helpful for them. They are showing signs of stress, but have also had some good days. They are being monitored – right now they need time to process.

  10. Justin Brouwer

    RIP Big guy… I’ll never forget meeting you and feeding you peanuts after Yewande was born!

  11. A fantastic Silverback, very calm and accepting even when strangers visited his indoor enclosure. Majestic and a great leader and father. He will be missed.

  12. Janet Bayda

    Hi! I’m so sorry for The Calgary Zoos loss. 🙁
    Where can we donate our phones to?

    • Calgary Zoo

      They can be donated at Guest Relations in the tunnel, or in the TransAlta Rainforest building. Thank you for your support!

  13. Shirley

    He will sorely be missed. He was a favourite to watch as he interacted with his “kids” I remember one day in particular because it was so ‘humanlike” He was stretched out on a big rock having a nap while enjoying the sunshine, his “kids” were roughhousing and got a little to rambunctious, he got up and went to them and read them the riot act, it was just the cutest thing to see. I am saddened at our lose !

  14. Linda Foo

    Such a special gorilla. My grandson was calling his grampa “Kakinga” two weeks ago, because his grampa is the leader of our troop. I am saddened by his passing.

  15. Nancy

    So terribly sad
    He was a lovely magnificent creature who will be missed by his family Troup and all of Calgary

  16. Jan Normand

    What a great legacy Kakinga left. My condolances to the staff at the Calgary zoo. You all should be proud that you kept Kaginga healthy for so long.

  17. Clint

    I am very sorry to hear this I have visited the zoo many times over the past 40 years and he was always a highlight of the visits

  18. Bill Terezakis

    A sad day indeed….
    May Kakingas’ offspring carry on and produce many more beautiful healthy gorillas.
    Bill Terezakis

  19. Jennifer

    I am sure the staff and his keepers are so sad. This is a loss. I hope the troop is doing ok.

  20. Joy Matthews

    I am so very sorry to hear this. How hard it must be on all the workers who have spent time with him.

  21. dawna white

    I am soooooo saddened to hear this news….Kakinga was a KING…R.I.P. MR.KAKINGA….My condolences to all who cared for and loved him…..:( <3 I love you soooo much…. xoxox

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