Gorilla Bokito, who once attacked a woman, dies unexpectedly at 27 in a Dutch zoo

Posted in 11/04/2023

Bokito, a western gorilla, at the Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam. 16 July 2016 - Credit: compuinfoto / DepositPhotos - License: DepositPhotos

GAP’s note: The story of Bokito is one among many examples of how complex it is to keep such intelligent beings in captivity. With the aggravating factor, in this case, that there is exposure and visitation. May Bokito rest in Peace…

Blijdorp Zoo’s famous western lowland gorilla, Bokito, died unexpectedly on April 4th, 2023, the Rotterdam zoo said. The animal gained global notoriety after he escaped the enclosure in 2007 and attacked a woman who had been a frequent visitor.

The animal was 27 years of age when it died, and spent most of the past 18 years in Rotterdam. Bokito was born at the Berlin Zoo on March 14, 1996. He also managed to escape his enclosure there when he was eight years old. A year after his escape, he was sent to Rotterdam in 2005 as part of a European breeding program. Gorillas in captivity can live to be over 50 years of age, compared to about 40 years when in the wild, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Today is a very sad day for Blijdorp,” said Erik Zevenbergen, the director of the zoo, a day after the gorilla’s death. “He hadn’t been feeling well since Sunday.” Bokito’s droppings were examined and he was kept under close monitoring, but his condition was not improving on Tuesday. The zoo decided to administer fluids and carry out a further examination while the animal was under anesthesia, but the situation took a turn for the worse during the procedure and he could not be revived. The cause of death is under investigation.

Bokito made headlines around the world when he escaped from his enclosure on May 18, 2007, during the zoo’s 150th anniversary. The incident was triggered by children who teased the animal by throwing rocks at it, the zoo said at the time. Bokito jumped 3.5 meters across a moat, and crossed a 7,000-volt electric fence.

A woman who was a frequent visitor and thought she had a close bond with Bokito was grabbed by the gorilla and dragged about 45 meters. The gorilla was eventually stopped with a tranquilizer gun after about an hour. By that time, the the woman had about a hundred bite marks, several fractures, and shattered bones in her hand. He then crossed a cafe terrace and entered a restaurant, pushing people aside and injuring three more.

The woman was seriously wounded in the attack. She was accused of provoking Bokito by staring intensely at him. She visited about four times per week, and was cautioned days before the attack not to stare at the gorilla. “He is and will always be my favorite. Since he has been in Blijdorp, I have maintained contact with him. When I put my hand on the glass, he did the same. If I smiled at him, he smiled back,” she told the Telegraaf days after the incident.

The word “Bokitoproof” was even selected as the Word of the Year in 2007. The word was defined as, “resistant to (the consequences of) destructive behavior (of animals) and vandalism (of people),” and has also been used to specify a zoo constructed in such a way as to fully prevent an animal from escaping.

Insurance firm FBTO also developed the BokitoKijker in response to the incident. Shaped like old 3D glasses or glasses for viewing a solar eclipse, the eyewear is printed with an image of human eyes looking up towards a corner. Holes in the middle allowed people to look at a gorilla without being intimidating. The eye covering won advertising agency DDB Amsterdam a Bronze Lion at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in 2008.

Over time, Bokito developed more socially, the zoo said. He had ten offspring, and effectively adopted a son, Nasibu, which is uncommon for gorillas. Zevenbergen said, “Of course we are very sad in Blijdorp now. We see that the gorilla troop is very affected and that certainly also applies to the caretakers. Bokito was a very warm family man, whom we will miss very much together.”