Beloved gibbon from Oakland Zoo dies after being relocated to Santa Barbara to find love


Nikko, a 35-year-old white-handed gibbon, died less than a month after zoo matchmakers moved the ape from his longtime home in Oakland to pair him with a lonely gibbon in Santa Barbara who had recently lost her mate.

The beloved ape died Sunday in Santa Barbara, en route to a veterinary clinic, of what veterinarians suspect was cancer. It will take several weeks for that to be confirmed, though a mass was discovered in Nikko’s upper abdomen, along with abnormalities in his kidneys and liver, according to the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Nikko had been doing well until about 10 days ago, when his appetite began to decline. Surgery and other treatment for his ailments would not have been effective, even with an earlier diagnosis, said Dr. Julie Barnes, the zoo’s director of animal care and health.


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

White-handed gibbons, an endangered species, are native to tropical evergreen rainforests in countries like Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. The small, slender tree-dwelling apes have been known to live into their 30s in captivity.

Nikko spent the majority of his life at the Oakland Zoo, but after his longtime mate died this year, the Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums decided to play matchmaker. Jasmine, an elderly gibbon at the Santa Barbara Zoo who also had recently lost a mate, seemed to be an ideal companion for him.

In November, Nikko was relocated to live with Jasmine and her adopted 4-year-old daughter, Jari. Jasmine and Nikko showed incredible chemistry, immediately bonding and even sharing a few hugs. Zoo officials were confident the “blended family” would be successful.

“Our zookeepers and staff are devastated,” Oakland Zoo officials wrote in a post on Facebook. “Nikko was a beloved Oakland Zoo family member, and we mourn his loss with the heaviest of hearts. We’ll miss you #DearNikko.”


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