Picture a tasteful memorial, perhaps at a pet cemetery, somewhere in Tacoma, for a gorilla.
That’s where the mortal remains of Ivan belong.
Tacoma’s favorite non-human son died at Zoo Atlanta Monday in the gentlest way. He was under general anesthetic as veterinarians attempted to diagnose the causes of his recent physical decline, and he never woke up.
Ivan’s long life spanned a revolution in our own species’ understanding of the great apes.
Captured as an infant 50 years ago in what was then the Belgian Congo, he was shipped to the United States by wildlife traders. He wound up as an attraction in the B&I Circus Store on South Tacoma Way, where he spent 27 years by himself in a concrete enclosure.
In the meantime, humans figured out that gorillas weren’t just scary-looking jungle beasts. Naturalists observed their close family bonds, elaborate social structures and intelligence. It became clear that gorillas are as tied to other gorillas as humans are to other humans – and that no gorilla should spend life alone.
Credit the Lynnwood-based Progressive Animal Welfare Society with launching, in 1987, what became a national campaign to unite Ivan with other gorillas in a proper gorilla habitat.
National Geographic featured his plight in a documentary, “The Urban Gorilla.” The New York Times told his story. The News Tribune editorialized again and again in favor of giving him a better home.
After bucking immense pressure, his owner in 1994 relinquished him to the Woodland Park Zoo, which loaned him permanently to Zoo Atlanta – maybe as good a place for African lowland gorillas as you can find outside the African lowlands. His final years were spent with gorilla friends.
“He’s having peaceful, enjoyable twilight years,” one of his caretakers told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution just a few days ago.
His life had a happy ending. His remains should have one, too.
Ivan’s final resting place should be here, where his memory will be most honored. He has countless thousands of friends and well-wishers here. His early champions are here. This is where the battle to free him was fought.
His grave deserves a monument engraved with an epitaph. Perhaps something like, “We finally learned, Ivan.”