Beloved primate dies at local zoo
A 28-year-old female mandrill — likened to Rafiki in Disney’s “The Lion King” — named Gladys died Wednesday evening at Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo, 1301 S. Pennsylvania Ave.
When zookeepers noticed Wednesday that Gladys was not acting her usual self within the exhibit, officials quickly performed a physical exam, blood work and an ultrasound but could not save her.
“She had been under routine care for quite some time,” said Tara Harrison, the zoo’s veterinarian.
“It’s very sad and frustrating when an animal dies, but we did everything that we could.”
Gladys first arrived at the zoo in 1989 after she was born in Brownsville, Texas, in 1982, according to Potter Park Zoo officials.
Harrison said a typical mandrill can live about 30 years in captivity and is an endangered species in the wild.
For at least two years, Harrison said Gladys suffered from gall bladder problems — recently undergoing a successful surgery to remove the bladder stones — as well as arthritis.
Zookeepers modified her exhibit by increasing the size of her climbing platforms to make her feel more comfortable in front of the zoo’s guests.
“Many people have seen her, and she would interact with the people,” Harrison said.
“She was known for making a smiling gesture to the public.”
Harrison said mandrills — like any wild animal — are dangerous and unpredictable, but those who worked with Gladys formed a special bond.
“You get really attached to certain animals,” said Jackie Broder, the zoo’s feline and primate keeper who worked with Gladys for about 10 years.
“It’s hard not to get to know an animal that’s much like we are. (Gladys) was always trying to get your attention and see what she could get you to do.”
Zoology junior Liz Ratzloff works with school-aged children at the zoo, teaching them about the smaller animals such as the ferrets and chinchillas.
Even though she didn’t work with Gladys, Ratzloff said the zookeepers and student volunteers often form bonds with the animals for which they care.
“A lot of volunteers have favorite animals that they prefer to work with, and there are a lot of animals that prefer to work with certain volunteers,” Ratzloff said. “It goes both ways.”
Harrison said exotic animals usually fake their illness when it occurs.
When the animal cannot hide it and it is eventually figured out, the disease is too far advanced.
“It all happened really fast,” Broder said.
“When we noticed something was wrong, we pretty much decided that we had to get her to the animal hospital.”
A necropsy was performed Thursday at the MSU Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.
The process looks at the animal’s tissues at a microscopic level in an attempt to determine the exact cause of death, Harrison said. However, because of Gladys’ age, an exact cause might not be discovered.
“The zookeepers have a more personal connection with the animals, but I’ve worked with (Gladys) throughout the years,” Harrison said.
“She will be greatly missed by all our staff.”