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Pattycake, the Bronx Zoo's star gorilla, dies at 40

This undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation

This undated photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York shows Pattycake, the first gorilla born in New York City. Credit: AP

Pattycake, New York City's first native-born gorilla, whose antics and life drama played out both in captivity and on the world's stage, died Sunday at the Bronx Zoo.

At age 40, the media darling, who had been suffering from chronic cardiac problems, was three years past the median life span of gorillas in zoos, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the zoo's operator, said in a news release. A necropsy was performed to determine her cause of death, the society said.

"Millions of children in New York City grew up with Pattycake," said Jim Breheny, Bronx Zoo director and society executive vice president and general director, zoos and aquarium. "Pattycake was a very special animal and her presence will be deeply missed."

Over the years, she was the subject of numerous news accounts, including reports of her mating relationships and, as the mother of 10, the birth of her babies.

Born Sept. 3, 1972, at the Central Park Zoo, Pattycake lived there with her parents, Kongo and Lulu. At 5 months old, she made news when she suffered a broken arm and was moved to the Bronx Zoo's animal hospital, though she was later returned to her parents at Central Park, the release said.

Still, she became the subject of a celebrated custody battle between the two zoos, which was "almost a marital battle between zoos," said Pearl Wolf, author of "Gorilla Baby: The Story of Patty Cake" (Scholastic, 1974.) The children's book told of Pattycake's first year of life, including her being accidentally injured by her parents, said Wolf, 83, who at the time was a teacher and school librarian, and now a historical romance writer.Wolf, who went on to write historical romances, said she heard from a number of teachers -- and recently from a 36-year-old woman -- who told how the story was helpful to children from abusive homes.

Hundreds of children came out in 90-degree heat to celebrate the gorilla's first birthday, with Pattycake and her parents feasting on a banana birthday cake, "parts of which [she] smeared on the floor or hurled at reporters," according to a Newsday report.

She was "an adept show gorilla, delighting in interviews and mugging for photographers," Newsday said in 1976. Five years later, when the old Central Park Zoo was dismantled, she and her parents took up permanent residence at the Bronx Zoo, Newsday said in 1992.

In her years there she gave birth to 10 infants -- including a pair of twins born in 1995. The twins, fathered by Timmy, a gorilla on loan from a Cleveland zoo, made their public debut in July 1995, according to a Newsday report. Two years earlier, Timmy and Pattycake welcomed a 5-pound, 6-ounce male, Newsday reported.

Pattycake's offspring are now residing in zoos in Omaha, Louisville, Detroit, Boston, Buffalo and Utah, according to the news release.

Wolf said she was saddened by Pattycake's death. One of her children told her the news, saying "she was one of our family." Wolf added: "In a way she was."

With AP

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