March 16, 1995 marked the date that Ivan, an endangered western lowland gorilla, first set foot on real grass in almost 30 years.
In 1987, after becoming aware of the plight of this highly social animal, who had been confined alone to a 14' x 14' concrete cell for more than 27 years, PAWS began a campaign to free Ivan. It took more than seven years. Ivan, who had been imported to the US from then Zaire by owner of B&I Shopping Center in Tacoma in 1964, had not seen another gorilla since the death of his infant sister Burma in that same year.
Thousands of members of the Tacoma/Seattle community got involved to help make the campaign to free Ivan a success—they collected signatures for petitions calling for his release, donated money to PAWS for the placement of newspaper ads, and took part in protests and boycotts. They even helped PAWS to raise a $30,000 "offer" in exchange for Ivan's release to Woodland Park Zoo.
Ivan, PAWS and the citizens of Tacoma/Seattle got a boost to their cause in 1991, when National Geographic Explorer aired a documentary entitled "The Urban Gorilla" that contrasted shots of a sad, lonely and listless Ivan with shots of Willie B., another lowland gorilla shown taking his first tentative steps outdoors in Zoo Atlanta's natural gorilla habitat after 27 years of his own solitary confinement. Ivan's story was covered across the nation, from People Magazine to the New York Times.
In 1995 our efforts finally paid off. Thanks to scientists from Woodland Park Zoo and the Gorilla Species Survival Plan, Ivan was eventually gifted to Woodland Park Zoo, who then agreed to permanently loan Ivan to Zoo Atlanta, the place best fit to care for him. Ivan is an intelligent, inspirational, and gentle giant who is greatly enjoying his life at Zoo Atlanta. He has become one of the zoo's "star" attractions after successfully overcoming the emotional and physical damage caused by his years of confinement. Ivan delights guests of Zoo Atlanta with his paternal antics and tendencies to cover his head with a burlap sack to express his disapproval of rain.
Ivan's case is a shining example of the amazing change a caring community can inspire. His story now teaches kids in our community that they truly can make a difference in the lives of others.
PAWS members at one of many protests to free Ivan.
Poster for Ivan rally.
Ivan in Atlanta- content, confident and healthy.
Above: Ivan in the 14' x 14' cell where he spent over 20 years in solitary confinement