A silverback gorilla at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. He sits next to a large, brown rock formation inside the habitat on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and looks forward.

Gino the Gorilla Celebrates his 42nd Birthday at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park

By Andie Hagemann

We’re going bananas—because it is almost Gino’s birthday!

On Friday, December 30, this western lowland gorilla at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, turns 42 years old. Not only is Gino the oldest gorilla at the Park, but he is also a “Day One nimal, residing at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since opening day in 1998. You may even recognize him as one of the stars from the series Magic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Disney+ and National Geographic.

“It really amazes me how he is the incredible gorilla he is because he’s also a geriatric animal,” says Rachel Daneault, animal manager with Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment, who has worked with Gino since 2001. “He’s the only ‘OG’ from our family group—all the other animals from our family group when we opened have moved on to other accredited institutions . It’s a real testament [to him] that he’s been here for that long and he is the phenomenal guy that he is now.”

Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment cast members pull out all the stops to make birthdays extra special by creating animal-friendly birthday cakes, special enrichment items, and delectably appropriate treats for the animal to enjoy (and share). In celebration of Gino’s 41st birthday last year, the team created a cake made with a few of his favorite foods: alfalfa, pureed sweet potatoes, topped with grapes, blueberries, kiwis, and other fruit, all perched on a bed of banana leaves. Additionally, “41” was painted on rocks inside the habitat on Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail with rice cereal while green beans were arranged on the ground in the shape of “41.” Last, but certainly not least, there were plenty of lettuce bouquets on hand for Gino to nosh on.

“Gino is the silverback and gets first dibs at all the good things—we can make a big cake, put it in there, and know that he’ll get some of it,” Daneault says. “However, with one of the less dominant females or one of the kids, we have to be clever with how we celebrate. Sometimes we will smear food in the shape of the number on a rock for a gorilla  that we know will sneak down and find it before Gino does.”

Despite his status as the silverback, Gino is often a goofball and engages with the people and animals around him. He loves to be the center of attention and has been known to make eye contact with Park guests and interact with children through the viewing panel of his habitat. And over the years, Gino has formed a unique relationship with his keepers.

“There are times when I’m in a training session with him—he’s in a goofy mood—and instead of doing the training, he’s doing a little dance,” Daneault shares with a laugh. “I love those moments because I feel a real connection with him.”

Shares Dr. Natalie Mylniczenko, a veterinarian with Disney’s Animals, Science and Environment, “I have less day-to-day contact, so it’s taken me a lot of time to try to establish those relationships that the keepers already have. For me, one of the most memorable moments was when Gino started trying to get my attention and blowing kisses like he does with the keepers. When he did that for me, I thought, ‘I made it!’ and was accepted as part of the group”

Both Dr. Mylniczenko and Daneault credit Gino’s vigor to the focus on daily training and health behaviors in particular, including teeth brushing. Gorillas are very similar to us!

“Like most gorillas, Gino has dental disease, so every morning we have him come up to us (through a protected contact barrier) and we brush his teeth—he has several pockets in his mouth that we have to flush,” Daneault says. “Cardiac disease is also common in gorillas, so we practice cardiac ultrasounds and [Dr. Mylniczenko] will help us with that. We also bring in another ultrasonographer who will get readings and send them to The Great Ape Health Project. Every morning, and usually again midday, we do these training sessions to be able to do these behaviors to make sure he’s healthy and that everything is normal with him.”

In between exams and enrichment, Gino loves to play, especially with his children. Currently, five of his 14 offspring still live in his family group, which is remarkable for silverback gorillas.

“I think one of the reasons our guests connect with Gino in particular, is because he’s such a good dad,” Daneault shares. “We have families who come in, they see him, and he’ll be playing with his two 8-year-old sons or he will be playing with his 1-year-old daughter, and they can relate to that. Actually, 8 years old is quite old for a male gorilla to still be with his natal family group. One of the reasons we feel we’re successful is because Gino is very tolerant of their behavior, but he also still loves to play with them every day.”

Adds Dr. Mylniczenko, “He’s managing his family all day, essentially. It’s funny for me to try to get an echocardiogram done with him trying so hard to focus while his kids are all around [trying to get his attention].”