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Colossus Gets First Glimpse At Female, Likes What He Sees

June 16, 1988

GULF BREEZE, Fla. (AP) _ Colossus, billed as the largest captive lowland gorilla, got his first glimpse of another member of his species since infancy, a female on loan for breeding.He apparently liked what he saw.

But the match between the 6-foot-2, 570-pound Colossus and 4-8, 274-pound Muke, on loan from the St. Louis Zoo, has a long way to go before it becomes an affair of the soap opera kind.

Colossus’ encounter with Muke on Wednesday was only a glimpse through a small opening between their bedrooms at The Zoo in this Pensacola suburb.

″Colossus has been peeking in through that little porthole over there and been knocking the dust out of the concrete walls,″ said Pat Quinn, director of The Zoo. ″He’s very excited about this whole affair.″

Both gorillas are about 22 years old, prime breeding age, and each was captured in the wilds of West Africa as an infant.

But Colossus had been separated from other gorillas at Benson’s Animal Park in Hudson, N.H., before moving to the Florida Panhandle in March. Muke (pronounced Moo’-key) has lived with other members of their species at St. Louis, the Columbus Zoo and the Bronx Zoo.

University of West Florida scientists had been preparing Colossus for Muke’s arrival by showing him National Geographic videotapes of gorillas.

Muke is worldly and sophisticated compared to Colossus, Quinn said. She also has an ornery streak, picking fights even with some male gorillas, and is said to have bitten off a keeper’s finger at the New York City zoo, he said.

Although considered large for a female, Muke may have met her match in Colossus. She watched him cautiously through the peephole in the door dividing their quarters, especially when Colossus ran over and banged on it.

″She’s concerned, I think, about his size,″ Quinn said. ″He’s the Sylvester Stallone of the gorilla world. Hopefully, he’ll be the Bing Crosby of the gorilla world.″

And Quinn wasn’t referring to Crosby’s crooning ability, although Colossus has been very vocal since Muke’s arrival Tuesday night.

Muke was driven to Pensacola in a well-vented trailer, stopping at Burger King restaurants en route for fruit and vegetable snacks, but no hamburgers since gorillas are vegetarians. The restaurant chain sponsored the $10,000, 1 1/2 -day-long trip.

Dr. Mabon Pugh, a Pensacola veterinarian who examined Muke when she was tranquilized before the move, said the animal appears normal in every respect, but for some reason has been unable to breed.

The Gorilla Species Survival Committee of the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which arranged the match, is hoping Colossus will be the answer to her dreams.

Because Colossus has no experience with another gorilla, the two will be kept in separate indoor quarters while time-sharing a 7,000-foot outdoor enclosure until they show signs of compatibility. Until then, they will be able to see, smell and touch each other through the peephole. It isn’t big enough, however, to permit them to grab or hold hands.

″He’s been a peeping gorilla today,″ Quinn quipped.

Eventually the plan is to open a door enough for Muke to visit Colossus, but not enough for him to crawl through, leaving her with an escape route if necessary.

Quinn figures he’ll be able to tell when they are ready to meet when they start knocking the paint off the walls. A more subtle indication, he said, would be the sharing of food.

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