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Zoo animals' twilight years pose new questions

June 21, 2008 |  9:00 am

Fifi_the_chimp_at_60

We've highlighted people spending gobs on medical bills for their baby-boomer pets. Now the nation's zoos are entering a "zone of unknowns" as animals live longer than anyone expected, the Associated Press reports.

While animals in captivity living longer than their wild brethren is nothing new, as that gap in life expectancy increases -- partly due to better medical care -- there have been some adjustments.

The Santa Ana Zoo, for instance, is home to Moka, a colobus monkey pushing 27 years old, making him the second-oldest in the United States:

For Moka, old age has meant only a few minor changes. His perch has been lowered so he doesn't have to jump up to it. He gets regular X-rays to check for arthritis. And he tends to get access to warm areas during the winter.

But the aging population of America's zoos is raising many other simple –- but potentially daunting –- questions.

Do female gorillas, now frequently living into their 40s and 50s, experience menopause?

Can an aging lemur suffer from dementia?

Should an oldster be put down simply because he's old?

"How old is geriatric? How old do animals really live?" says Sharon Dewar, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. "That's the million-dollar question."

The chimpanzee above, Fifi, shown celebrating her 60th birthday, was the matriarch of Sydney, Australia's Taronga Zoo until she died last year at age 61. A chimp's average lifespan in the wild is 45.

-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Mark Baker/Associated Press

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