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I Remember Ivan

Updated on February 23, 2016
GailLedford profile image

Gail is a 30 year old animal lover from Georgia who is passionate about wildlife and wild places.

I feel like there are many individuals one will meet throughout their life....

The memories we have of some of those individuals may fade with time, but there will always be those that remain steadfast. There will always be a few of those individuals that manage to stick out and stay in our hearts, even after they’re gone.

Ivan was one of those individuals. Amazingly,Ivan was no person. He was not even a pet. He was, in fact, a gorilla. I knew Ivan for six years, although I know people who knew him even better, and I was lucky enough to have the chance to visit him quite frequently. I guess you could say he was a bit of a curmudgeon. He hated the rain, and he certainly hated the wet ground that came as a result of it. In fact, he hated the wet ground so much that he would often take a burlap back outside into his enclosure just so that he could sit and scoot around on it without getting wet. But, he was a very gentle soul on the inside, and his caretakers loved him

Ivan (on the left) seemingly contemplating while sitting with his female companion, Kinyani (right).
Ivan (on the left) seemingly contemplating while sitting with his female companion, Kinyani (right). | Source

The Shopping Mall Gorilla: From Washington State to Atlanta, GA

Ivan actually has quite the story behind him, and I would not be surprised if some reader stumbled across this post and actually already knew him. Ivan was born in Africa and was brought to the United States when he was just a baby in the early 1960’s. The family that owned him owned a shopping mall in Washington State, and at first he lived in a private home, but when he became too big he was actually moved into an enclosure inside the mall. He would spend the next 30 years of his life there. Finally, after years of campaigning by the public who had become much more aware of the fact that gorillas did not belong in shopping malls, Ivan was moved to Zoo Atlanta in 1994 where he would have a large outdoor habitat to enjoy as well as the companionship of other gorillas. Unfortunately, Ivan never produced any offspring. For, although he liked being around the other gorillas, he seemed to like being around his human caretakers even more (oftentimes a byproduct of an animal being raised by humans is that they often do not know how to be the animal that they should be). Animals at the zoo are often provided with things for what is known as enrichment (things that keep the animals stimulated both mentally and physically), and Ivan was no different. Ivan was often very gentle with his toys and he showed a great affinity towards certain things. One time Ivan was even given a Gumby doll, a toy which he became very attached to. Of course, I knew then that he was going to have a Gumby then he would just HAVE to have a Pokey and I immediately went out and bought him one. I was very happy to hear how much he enjoyed playing with it (and even sleeping with it!) later on.

Another of Ivan’s favorite past times believe it or not was painting, and he would often “sign” his paintings with a thumbprint. He would often get very excited whenever it was time to break out the paints and he was apparently quite artistic with his drawings. He passed away at the age of 50 in 2012 after suddenly falling ill and the zoo's veterinary staff noticed that his health was in serious decline. He passed away while under anesthesia during a diagnostic exam to determine what exactly was wrong.

Ivan Remembered

A fictional account of Ivan’s life was penned in a book, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (you might know her as K.A. Applegate of Animorphs fame), and the true account was written in the children’s book Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, also by Applegate. The first one went on to when the Newberry Medal. When Ivan passed his ashes were taken home to Washington State and the plan is to place them inside a memorial statue of his likeness which will one day stand outside the front entrance of the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.

Animals have a way of shaping our lives and Ivan was certainly proof of that. But what Ivan was also proof of was the fact that we, human beings, also have the power to shape theirs and to make them better. And that goes for ALL ANIMALS.


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