SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE (CBSMiami) — Zoo Miami is deeply saddened to announce the death of “J.J.,” the 34 year old silverback lowland gorilla who had become an iconic favorite to millions of zoo visitors for over three decades.

For the past several days, J.J. had become very lethargic along with displaying signs of gastro-intestinal distress such as diarrhea and loss of appetite. Though the gastro-intestinal issues appeared to be responding to treatment, he still appeared weak and lethargic, according to Zoo Communications Director Ron Magill.  Because J.J. had a history of cardiac related problems such as hypertension that he was being treated for, the veterinary team decided to immobilize him so that a closer examination could be performed. Though there were no glaring signs of any critical advances in his heart disease, blood was drawn, X-rays were taken, and a variety of other tests were done including an echocardiogram. In addition, an upper pre-molar that was loose and infected was extracted.

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Visitors were saddened to hear about J.J.’s passing. “We came yesterday. We thought it was too hot and then we heard he was sick,” said zoo visitor Michael Caffarelli.

“We’re very sorry for your loss and it was just so tragic to hear that you had lost somebody so special to you guys,” said Elissa Pasanello to zoo staff.

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Once the procedure was concluded, the 447 pound great ape was returned to his night house to recover. It was there, when his breathing tube from the immobilization was removed, that he went into respiratory arrest. The veterinary team worked feverishly to resuscitate him and was successful in getting him to breathe on his own. However, he soon slipped into a coma and with staff by his side died at approximately 11:00 p.m.

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“What J.J. did was he dispelled all those myths about King Kong and these vicious gorilla monsters.  He was the gentle giant,” said Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill.

J.J. was born in New Orleans at the National Institute of Health on July 8, 1979. He arrived at Zoo Miami in in March of 1983 as part of a group that included his father, Jimmy, who he is named after (Jimmy Junior), and became the patriarch of the gorilla troop in 1996 following the death of Jimmy in August of that year. He fathered two girls – Moka, in December of 1996, and Alice, in June of 2002.

J.J. personified the term, “gentle giant.” He was an excellent father who displayed extraordinary patience with his mischievous daughters and was a protective patriarch who kept order within the troop without being overly domineering. He will be profoundly missed by all who had the privilege to know him.

Zoo staff is awaiting the results of several tests in hopes that a conclusive cause of death can be determined.

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