Staff Report

Nikko, a 35-year-old white-handed gibbon who had arrived at the Santa Barbara Zoo from the Oakland Zoo less than a month earlier, died Dec. 16 from a previously unknown medical condition.

Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s director of animal care and health, said that surgery or treatment would not have been effective even if his condition had been diagnosed within the prior weeks.

“This would have proved fatal, regardless,” she said. “We are so sad to have lost him so soon after his arrival, as he had already won everyone’s hearts.”

Nikko was to be a companion to the Santa Barbara Zoo’s elderly female gibbon Jasmine and her “adopted daughter” Jari, who is 4 years old.

Both Jasmine and Nikko had lost their mates of several decades, so they were matched by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Gibbons are social creatures and it was believed that this new “blended family” would benefit all three apes.

Nikko arrived in Santa Barbara on Nov. 27 and was in quarantine and had begun introductions to Jasmine and Jari.

On Dec. 10, keepers observed a decrease in appetite, but Nikko otherwise continued to exhibit normal behaviors. Over the next few days, staff became increasingly concerned as he continued to eat less.

“Taking into consideration all the changes in his life, we didn’t want to rush into anesthesia, which would be necessary in order to examine him,” Barnes said.

When he was found very weak in his holding area, he was transferred to the Animal Clinic.

“His blood and urine tests showed acute liver and renal failure,” Barnes said. “The radiographs and ultrasounds were inconclusive and it was proving difficult to get a diagnosis. … We arranged to have him seen by veterinary internal medicine specialists about 15 minutes away, where he could have a more advanced ultrasound examination.”

Nikko died en route.

A necropsy was performed at the zoo where a mass in the upper abdomen was detected, along with abnormalities of both kidneys and the liver. Cancer is suspected, pending further tests.