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Lost Dreams: The Tragic Story of Gorilla Julia, Rescued from Traffickers, Tormented at a UK Zoo, and Brutally Killed in Melbourne.


The tragic life story of a female gorilla killed by a rampant male in Melbourne Zoo has revealed that it was rescued from smugglers 33 years ago.

Julia the gorilla died from complications after a young male displayed ‘unexpected levels of aggression’ and violently attacked her at Melbourne Zoo in May.

An investigation into Julia’s background by The Monthly has revealed that tragedy stalked the gorilla throughout her life.

The gorilla who became known as Julia was bought by undercover conservationist journalists from wildlife traffickers when she was just a baby in May, 1982.

Posing as a rich, German childless couple, Ineke Bonjer and Henk Lambertz travelled to Westerlo in Belgium and paid a hefty amount for Julia when she was just a few months old.

Julia’s rescue from notorious private animal dealer Rene Corten helped to expose animal smuggling, which was just beginning to get worldwide attention, and the stories that followed about her rescue struck a chord.

When it became impossible to release Julia back into the wild, after considering a number of options, it was decided that she be sent to the Abuko Nature Reserve in Gambia.

But when this proved to be the wrong environment for her – the Gambia was hot and dry, while rainforests are gorillas’ natural habitat – in May, 1990, Julia was transported to Jersey Zoo, in the English Channel island of Jersey, where staff loved her and for six years her life was settled.

However a series of attacks by a new male gorilla brought to the zoo called Ya Kwanza culminated in Julia’s leg being broken, and it was decided to move her again – this time to Melbourne Zoo in 1997 to participate in a gorilla breeding program.

After meeting her suitor, Motaba, she gave birth to a female gorilla named Jumatano, who is currently living at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.

When Marian Mensink – a young Dutch veterinarian who had looked after the gorilla in Gambia -learned Julia had given birth to a daughter she said: ‘I thought finally she had found a good place to live.’

For the next 17 years Julia lived an idyllic life in Melbourne. But in 2013 Otana, from Howlett’s Wild Animal Park in England, was transferred to Melbourne Zoo to replace another male, Rigo, who had died of heart failure there.

It was a move that would eventually end Julia’s life.

Staff monitoring the group in May observed 13-year-old Otana displaying unprecedented aggression towards Julia, a natural behaviour for Silverbacks asserting dominance in the wild.

Judith Henke, from Melbourne Zoo, told Daily Mail Australia that Otana had been showing natural signs of leadership, but with his lack of experience the situation ‘went too far’.

‘Normally they hit or bite and unfortunately in this instance both of those things happened,’ Henke said.

‘It’s absolutely terrible but he just doesn’t know his own strength.’

While Julia had no visible wounds, staff thought she appeared unwell after she chose to sleep away from the group in a heated cave. Sadly the damage had been done and she had suffered fatal injuries.

A vet team examined Julia and found she had experienced ‘extensive trauma and significant complications’ following the incident.

Ms Henke said Julia died from massive internal injuries.

‘We were really hoping she would breed again and it’s very sad that won’t be happening now,’ she said.



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