Hellabrunn Zoo in mourning: Sudden death of silverback Roututu

The gorilla community at Hellabrunn Zoo has lost their patriarch. Roututu, the much-loved head of the silverback clan died on Saturday, 15 November, in Munich. He showed no previous signs of illness. Shortly after eating his evening meal, which he consumed with a healthy appetite, Roututu suddenly collapsed and, despite the best efforts of the vets to save him, could not be resuscitated.

"The zookeeper called me immediately, and four minutes later I was there. I tried everything I could," says Dr. Christine Gohl, Veterinary Director at the zoo, still visibly upset by the incident. "But there was nothing we could do." And indeed, the necropsy conducted on Sunday, 16 November, at the Institute of Veterinary Pathology, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich revealed the cause of death as hyperacute cardiac tamponade, which means that within a very short period of time about two liters of blood flowed into Roututu’s pericardium (the sac in which the heart is enclosed). When such an excessive amount of fluid occurs in the sac, it places such pressure on the heart muscle that the heart is no longer able to pump. Roututu would have lost consciousness almost instantly and died within few minutes.

The potential cause of the massive inflow of blood into the pericardial sac is a tumor at the base of the heart, possibly in conjunction with vascular damage. However, this can only be confirmed with absolute certainty once the results of the histological examination are available and the tissue samples removed in the postmortem have been examined in the laboratory in detail. Hyperacute cardiac tamponade also occur in humans, and even here help often arrives too late.

"Roututu's death is not only a huge loss for the important conservation breeding of this endangered species," says zoo director Rasem Baban. "He will be greatly missed by each of us and we are all very saddened, particularly as this animal commanded respect from everyone." Baban's words not only reflect the sadness of the staff at the zoo: Roututu's friendly nature, even-temperedness and humorous facial expressions captured the hearts of millions of visitors to Hellabrunn Zoo for over 40 years. Like all gorillas at Hellabrunn, he belonged to the subspecies of western lowland gorillas and was the last species in the group caught in the wild. He arrived at the zoo from Cameroon in 1974, aged about one year, and spent his entire life at Hellabrunn where he fathered a total of 16 children with four females, twelve of whom survive today. Roututu was a multiple grandfather and great-grandfather; his descendants live in zoos in Germany, England, France, Austria, Spain and Hungary - all of whom are contributing to the conservation of the western lowland gorilla, which like all gorilla species on the IUCN Red List are endangered.

"He would sit in his favorite spot in the Jungle House, in the left corner, near the glass, and be face to face with the visitors - so we got to know him well over the last few years, and will always remember him," says Christine Strobl, Mayor and Chairman the Supervisory Board at Hellabrunn Zoo. "As we reflect on the sad loss of Roututu, I would also like to thank the Institute of Veterinary Pathology at LMU for their willingness to provide assistance, which has made it possible to gain an insight into the cause of this sudden death as soon as possible. We are now waiting for the results of the detailed examination. Hellabrunn Zoo will inform you as soon as the final results are available."