Vila the gorilla turns 59 at the San Diego Safari Park - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Vila the gorilla turns 59 at the San Diego Safari Park

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Believed to be the world's third-oldest western lowland gorilla, Vila had her 59th birthday Thursday at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Vila, part of a critically endangered species, is the matriarch of the eight-member troop at the Safari Park.

Animal care staff, horticulture staff and volunteers filled the gorilla exhibit with fall-themed enrichment items -- including pumpkins, gourds, multicolored browse, streamers, jack-o-lantern bags filled with popcorn and other edible treats like ice cake.

Each member of the troop entered the habitat and immediately started to partake of the buffet of tasty snacks scattered about, zoo officials said. Vila indulged on an ice cupcake topped with sweet potato puree frosting.

"Vila is an essential member of the gorilla family," said Peggy Sexton, lead keeper in the mammal department at the park.

"She may be in her later years, but she is still active and enjoys playing with baby Joanne and the teenage boys, Monroe and Frank," Sexton said. "Many times, you can find her sitting next to the troop's silverback, Winston, who watches over her constantly."

Park officials believe that Vila was born in October 1957 in the Congo. She was raised at the San Diego Zoo, and moved to what was then called the Wild Animal Park in 1975.

Vila has overseen five generations of gorillas at the park.

Keepers said she is in excellent health, just a little slower than she used to be.

A western lowland gorilla born in 1956 lives at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, and one estimated to have been born in 1957 is at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas. Another born that same year is at the Berlin Zoo in Germany.

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