Jambo means "hello" in Swahili. The gorilla was born on April 17, 1961, in Zoo Basel, Basel, Switzerland, to mother Achilla and father Stephi. Stephi was acquired from the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo. Stephi was captured in 1950 by Columbus resident and gorilla hunter Bill Said, with two other baby gorillas, in French Equatorial Africa. The three were sold to the Columbus Zoo for $10,000. The two which the Columbus Zoo kept, Baron Macombo and Millie Christina, became the parents of Colo, the first gorilla born in a zoo, in Columbus on December 22, 1956. She was the first gorilla born in captivity as well as the first gorilla in captivity to be raised by her own mother.
Jambo's older sister Goma, born on September 23, 1959 in Basel, was the first gorilla born in Europe and still lives in the Zoo Basel. Before Jambo was transferred to Jersey Zoo Jambo and Goma had a son named Tamtam, who was born at Zoo Basel on May 2, 1971, and died at Wuppertal Zoo on July 23, 2009. Jambo also fathered a daughter while still at Zoo Basel by an unrelated female. Jambo had 7 siblings and 20 offspring by 5 different mates, including three stillbirths.
Rescue of Levan Merritt
Jambo shot to international news stardom overnight on August 31, 1986, when five-year-old Levan Merritt fell into the gorilla enclosure and lost consciousness. Jambo stood guard over the boy when he was unconscious, placing himself between the boy and other gorillas in what ethologists analyze as a protective gesture. He later stroked the unconscious boy's back. When the boy regained consciousness and started to cry, Jambo and the other gorillas retreated in panic, and the silverback led them into the little house. But when the gate was closing, a younger gorilla named Hobbit got out, and an ambulanceman and two keepers rescued the boy while trying to keep calm. Most of the drama was shot on home video by Brian Le Lion, and extensively photographed by bystanding zoo visitors. The publicity on major news channels and newspapers helped ease public fears about the potentially violent nature of gorillas.
Death and legacy
Jambo was found dead by his keeper Richard Johnstone-Scott in the gorilla enclosure on September 16, 1992. The cause of death was a spontaneous rupture of the major artery, resulting in a massive hemorrhage in his chest. A biography of Jambo, written and illustrated by his keeper, was published following his death. A documentary has also been released primarily based on the home video footage of the Levan Merritt incident.
Jersey Zoo has erected a bronze statue of Jambo inside the zoo grounds as a tribute to the gorilla who helped change public perception about the species.
- Jambo: A Gorilla's Story, Richard Johnstone-Scott, Michael O'Mara Books (1995) ISBN 1-85479-701-8
- Jambo - The Gentle Giant, Green Umbrella, 2005
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