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Animal spotlight: Nina

Posted by: Carolyn Austin Sellar, Zookeeper

This is the second installment of our new series: Animal Spotlight.

Everybody knows Nina… if not by name then by sight. Yes, she has wrinkles (we call them her “distinguishing character lines”). Yes, she is a little bit round (hey, she’s short for her weight). She often holds a stick (every 43-year-old female should have a scepter or staff). Her favorite colors are red and pink, and yes, her tongue does stick out when she is relaxed!

At the gorilla unit we can all tell Nina’s mood by what we call the “tongue gauge.” When annoyed, her lips purse tightly and her tongue is completely in her mouth. But when relaxed and happy, out comes the tongue!

This year Nina turned 43. She is our oldest female western lowland gorilla here at Woodland Park Zoo. Now a great grandmother, Nina has seen a lot of changes at the zoo. She is very relaxed and unfazed when the younger female gorillas act up and is considered the solid rock in the group. She keeps everything stable and the daily routine moving. Even though Nina may not get very excited about the regular gorilla dramas like the younger girls do, she does get excited about food. She never lets anything get in her way during meal time!

When Nina does get excited, cover your ears, because she vocalizes unlike any of our other resident gorillas. Her normal content grunt gets really loud and sounds like a braying donkey!

Nina is now post-reproductive, but has had four kids (Wanto, Kamilah, Zuri and Alafia, all at other zoos), 14 grandkids and three great grandchildren! Wow! What a legacy! Nina is considered geriatric but she is in relatively good health for her age. The average life expectancy of gorillas in captivity is into their 30s, with the record being 55. Constantly improving health care and husbandry keeps these numbers increasing. Like any older animal (or person) Nina does have some unique needs due to her age. Some Metamucil every day helps keep things moving and a daily dose of Cosequin helps with her arthritis.

Although Nina is getting older and would be well past the eligibility requirement for an AARP discount if she were human, she’s still a spunky gorilla who loves being with her girls in the troop, sitting in the sun on warm Seattle days, and of course, she loves any extra servings at dinner time!

Photos (from top): Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Conner/Woodland Park Zoo, Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.


Anonymous said…
Nina definitely has a lot of personality. When I was at the zoo about a month ago I was taking some pictures of her and I swear she was posing for me. Cracked me up and I got some great photos out of it.
Ida Lewis said…
Nina looks great. I was a volunteer with the gorillas almost 20 years ago. Glad she is stll doing well.
Ramona Bowman said…
I was a docent at Woodland Park from 1975-1988. Nina and Pete were always two of my favorites. Glad to know that she is still doing well. She's a sweetheart!
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Anonymous said…
Nina is the best! She makes my day every time I see her. Wish I could give her a big hug!
Anonymous said…
Nina is the best! I love seeing her happy!