Ivan (Courtesy Zoo Atlanta)
ATLANTA -- Few of us have have experienced the high-profile awkwardness around the opposite sex that Ivan the Gorilla experienced.
When he made his debut with two lady gorillas at Zoo Atlanta in 1995, Ivan the suitor backpedaled and ran, chased by females in what the zoo called "an introduction cage." It was a humbling moment for a 400 pound Western Lowland gorilla whose life with filled with humility.
Ivan died last month at age 50. And Zoo Atlanta has announced a public memorial for Ivan on Saturday September 8.
For much of his life at Zoo Atlanta, Ivan was best known as "the other silverback" -- the gorilla who was not Willie B.
Willie B. was the celebrated Alpha male in the zoo's gorilla habitat, named after a legendary mayor. Ivan was named in a contest thrown by the owners of a shopping mall in Tacoma Wash., where he spent 27 years on display behind glass, viewed by shoppers with a mixture of wonderment and abject pity.
Ivan's plight became a cause celebre in Tacoma, with petitions demanding that Ivan be freed from his austere conditions as a storefront attraction. He came to Zoo Atlanta only after the owners of his shopping mall filed for bankruptcy. Ivan the Gorilla wasn't liberated as much as he was liquidated.
Though he lived outdoors at Zoo Atlanta, Ivan's life here was a bit of a mixed bag. He never fully socialized with other gorillas. He never fathered any baby gorillas. In the shopping mall in Tacoma, Ivan was a solitary attraction, a sad yet larger than life presence.
In Atlanta, in Willie B's shadow, Ivan was the proverbial second banana -- who lived and died the unassuming silverback.