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Oldest silverback gorilla in the UK turns 40

PZ Pertinax copyright Miriam Haas 1
© Miriam Haas

Western lowland gorilla Pertinax, who lives at Paignton Zoo, is celebrating his 40th birthday on 13 April 2022, making him the oldest male gorilla in the UK.

Pertinax, lovingly known as ‘Pert’, arrived to Paignton Zoo 25 years ago in April 1997 at just 15 years old. Along with friend Claus, Pertinax made the trip from Cologne Zoo to Paignton’s brand new Marie Le Fevre Ape Centre before being joined by two other male gorillas. The gorillas were the first residents of the new Ape Centre, which was officially opened by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in July 1998.

Even though they only look after males, Paignton Zoo fulfils a vital function in the European breeding programme for Critically Endangered western lowland gorillas. Their role in the programme is to raise young males in a natural social setting until they’re needed in other zoos as breeding males.

Over the years, Pertinax has been a father figure to many young gorillas at Paignton Zoo, bringing up three different groups of males. The current bachelor group, made up of teenagers N’Dowe, Kivu and Kiondo, came to the zoo as juveniles and were raised by Pertinax, who was well-placed to teach them ‘gorilla etiquette’.

As the group has grown into adolescence, Pertinax has moved into ‘retirement’ in search of a quieter life, meaning that he gets his own space away from the boisterous teens. In his retirement years, Pertinax has formed close bond with his keepers and spends much of his time relaxing and pottering around the island. Senior Keeper Gemma Keohane quoted:

“Pertinax is an absolute dream to work with. In his retirement his personality has really mellowed; he is much more relaxed and even plays with keepers, something that he never really did before. He enjoys listening to music, especially when we sing to him! Working with Pert and the boys has been the highlight of my career.”

Keepers are throwing Pertinax a 40th birthday party on Ape Island at Paignton Zoo, with 40 hand-wrapped presents, a cake and decorations – the perfect way to celebrate the oldest silverback in the UK’s big birthday.