When Tiffany’s handlers first noticed something off with her this month, they thought, too hopefully, that a storm from the night earlier had spooked her.
When the gorilla didn’t eat right for days, they hoped it was a toothache.
But Tiffany was old, pushing 50. With a few memorable exceptions, she had lived her entire life at Topeka Zoo, shunning other gorillas for the company of humans — and the people who knew her best were getting worried.
So they ran tests and tried surgery. Then more tests, more surgery, and finally an answer.
Tiffany had stage-four cancer, vets learned Sunday, when they put her to sleep one last time and — hope gone — did not wake her up.
“Goodnight gorilla,” the zoo wrote on Facebook in the afternoon. In the comments beneath her little obituary, hundreds of people remembered a lowland gorilla’s half-century on Earth.
She was born at the Kansas City Zoo in 1968 — the year humans first circled the moon — and she was raised among our species from Day One.
“It was like having a toddler in the house,” Jan Armstrong, who cared for infant Tiffany in her home, once told the Topeka Capital-Journal.
But hand-rearing gorillas, while not rare in that era, left Tiffany with peculiarities for the rest of her life.
“She never learned normal Gorilla social interactions,” the Topeka Zoo once explained. “She always preferred her Zoo Keeper family.”
She moved to the Topeka Zoo at age 1, in 1969, to become a companion for a male gorilla. Or so the zoo thought. The plan didn’t work so well.
“She was eight months older and larger than Max and bullied him for several years,” a zookeeper wrote to Gorilla Gazette. The pair eventually learned to tolerate each other but never mated.
Still childless in her late teens, Tiffany was sent to the Buffalo Zoo in the mid-1980s, in the hopes that she would find a partner and help replenish her endangered species.
But Buffalo was a disaster: A male gorilla attacked Tiffany and broke her leg, the Capital-Journal reported. She returned to Topeka after three years to live out the rest of her life — briefly escaping her enclosure at one point to go rogue with a cassette player.
Ever since the attack in Buffalo, the newspaper wrote, “Tiffany hasn’t let a male get too close to her.”
Kids were another story, though. Kids, she loved.
“She has a lot more human characteristics than maybe most gorillas would. She watches movies and likes to look through kids’ books,” zookeeper Joe Hood said on Tiffany’s 49th birthday last July, when the gorilla shoved applesauce cake into her mouth and played with dolls beneath her trees.
“If someone has their baby out here, she will come out and just watch them,” Hood told the Capital-Journal. “I don’t know why she does but [she] really does seem to like kids.”
Kids reciprocated the affection, as many parents have attested since last week, when the zoo announced that Tiffany wasn’t eating enough.
The first reports were optimistic. Surgeons at the zoo found that Tiffany had been constipated and seemed to be doing better after a good flushing out.
“She sat up and drank some water,” the zoo wrote Thursday, the morning after the procedure.
But the next day: “She has not responded in the way we had hoped and we have not yet ruled out that something else may be going on.”
On Sunday morning, handlers sedated the 200-plus-pound lowlander and took her to a hospital for a CT scan. It revealed two tumors on the wall of her abdomen: the metastasis of a cancer that began in her ovaries.
So they took her back to the zoo one last time, where vets were waiting with anesthesia and surgical equipment and the intent to make one last effort to save her.
Midway through the surgery, the zoo wrote, “knowing the full extent of the condition, we made the very tough decision to not wake her up.”
Tiffany died just before 3 p.m. at age 49 — survived by no gorillas but “surrounded by people who loved her.”