Snowflake, an extremely rare albino gorilla and the most popular resident of Barcelona Zoo, died of skin cancer early Monday morning, zoo officials said. Zoo officials put the elderly gorilla to sleep after his health deteriorated in recent days, zoo officials said. Snowflake had been dying of skin cancer since 2001.
Snowflake, or Copito de Nieve in Spanish, was taken to the zoo’s veterinary department for an autopsy.
“Until the end Copito enjoyed a fantastic quality of life, interacting normally with his children and grandchildren,” said the zoo’s chief and veterinarian, Jesus Fernandez.
“Lately though, he deteriorated quickly. In the past four or five days we noticed signs of pain and suffering and so decided to practice euthanasia.”
The gorilla was thought to be between 38 and 40 years old. The average life span in the wild is 25.
In his 37 years at the Barcelona zoo, he fathered 22 offspring with three different females. None is albino.
Not enough studies have been done to know how many albino gorillas may live in the wild, but they are extremely rare, and Snowflake was the only albino gorilla kept in captivity.
The gorilla’s wrinkly white face is on postcards all over the city. He was a main character in a novel and even had memoirs written in his name.
In September, officials announced his imminent death, and since then Barcelona citizens had flocked to the zoo to say their goodbyes to the often grouchy animal, the city’s mascot.
“Copito has been an unforgettable companion for our city and we all feel regret at losing him,” Barcelona mayor Joan Clos said. “He’s made a great contribution to his species by making the plight of gorillas more known, and the best thing we can do for him now is to continue that work.”
The city plans to create an educational space about gorillas at the Barcelona zoo to teach visitors about the dangers facing gorillas in the wild. Officials also plan to establish a scientific archive about Copito’s life, and, possibly, erect a statue at the zoo to commemorate him.
A small sample of the gorilla’s skin, a DNA sample, and body fluids will be given to scientists, and the gorilla’s skeleton may also be preserved for study, said Barcelona town hall official Jordi Portabella.