Zoo Atlanta was honored to be the final home of Ivan the western lowland gorilla, the inspiration for the Newbery Award-winning book “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate, as well as the film of the same name. Ivan was a cherished member of the Zoo Atlanta population from 1994 until his passing on August 20, 2012, at the age of 50.
Every life at the Zoo is a story worth sharing, but Ivan’s story was once told so widely and passionately that it ignited a national movement that touched two coasts. From the jungles of Africa to the shores of the Pacific Northwest to The Ford African Rain Forest at Zoo Atlanta, his life is a symbol of the way animals shape our lives – and the power we have to shape theirs.
In the mid-1990s, Zoo Atlanta was chosen as a home for Ivan, famous as “The Shopping Mall Gorilla” from Tacoma, Washington, for a number of reasons. Zoo Atlanta already had established leadership in the care and study of western lowland gorillas, and in particular, had already been successful in the socialization of another longtime solitary gorilla, the beloved late Willie B. Zoo Atlanta offered Ivan not only this legacy of leadership, but also a new home in the landmark Ford African Rain Forest, a series of naturalistic habitats where he would have the chance to explore the outdoors for the first time in more than 25 years. Zoo Atlanta also offered Ivan another vital opportunity – the chance to meet others of his own species – allowing him to spend the remainder of his life as a gorilla who lived in much the same way as gorillas do in the wild.
Ivan’s fans from the Pacific Northwest never forgot him. The Zoo still receives many letters and greetings about him and for him, and he remains one of the most asked-about individuals ever to live at Zoo Atlanta.
Ivan’s legacy is profound, lasting, and far-reaching. The 2012 publication of “The One and Only Ivan,” followed by the 2020 release of the film of the same name, have introduced new generations to his species and the conservation actions needed to preserve gorillas in the wild.
|Ivan in 2009|
|Species||Western lowland gorilla|
|Born||1962 Democratic Republic of Congo|
|Died||August 21, 2012 (aged 49–50) Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.|
Real Ivan the Gorilla: The story of the silverback Show Gorilla
While the Disney film’s story contains many fictional characters, Ivan the gorilla is based on a real-life gorilla, who was taken from the jungles in western Africa. According to a report on Decider, Ivan was forcefully separated from its parents in 1964 and brought to Tacoma Washington. In Washington, Ivan became the star attraction of The World Famous B&I Circus Store, run by Earl Irwin, who was found the circus store.
Source: @TacomaGhostTour (Twitter)
When Ivan was still a baby gorilla, he was taken in by the Johnston family. The Johnstons raised him like a son until he was three years old. However, at that point, Ivan became too big to be handled safely, and his foster family had to cage him.
Ivan spent the upcoming three decades of his life in the circus show. He was reportedly accompanied by a baby elephant and a seal, as we saw in the movie. However, one thing the Disney film left out was that Ivan was accompanied by bears and flamingos as well. Ivan soon began showing a keen interest in finger painting. For a short while, his artwork and paintings were on display at the Key Center Library in Lakebay, Washington.
Because of his declining health, Ivan underwent a diagnostic assessment by zoo doctors on Monday, according to Keisha Hines, zoo spokeswoman.
Born in the wild in 1962 in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivan had lived at Zoo Atlanta since 1994.
Though gorillas are considered geriatric after age 35, Ivan was one of four elderly gorillas living at Zoo Atlanta, officials said Tuesday afternoon. He was also well-known as the “Shopping Mall Gorilla” after spending 27 years in a Tacoma, Wash., mall.
In recent weeks, Ivan lost weight and his appetite and was battling a respiratory illness, Hayley Murphy, the zoos director of veterinary services, said Tuesday morning in an emailed statement.
“General anesthesia carries a degree of risk in any veterinary procedure, but these risks are compounded in an individual of Ivans advanced age and delicate condition,” Murphy said. “We are heartbroken that this proved the case, and Ivan did not recover from the anesthesia.”
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