Detroit Zoo says goodbye to gorillas Kongo, Chip and Pende

Royal Oak ― Sunday was the last day of a going-away party for three 20-something bachelors who have spent two decades together at the Detroit Zoo.

Chipua or “Chip,” Pendeka or “Pende” and Kongo-Mbeli or “Kongo,” three silverback gorillas who are half-brothers, are moving to another zoo, officials said.

Hundreds came to see them before they left, despite weekend thunderstorms. Signs made by zookeepers posted on the barriers of the exhibit read, “Good luck,” and “We’ll miss you boys.”

They are headed, zoo staff said, to another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Visitors could watch the gorillas with the staff that gave the gorillas “special enrichment treats” and calmed the worries of visitors who were concerned about the gorillas’ transition to a new home.

“We had a couple of little kids come up to me earlier and they wanted to make sure that one of the gorillas, Chip, was going to be safe and he was going to be taken care of the next place that he was going to. That’s her favorite gorilla. She was very emotional,” said Aaron Jesue, a zookeeper that’s been working with gorillas for over 17 years.

“Her mom had asked me all the questions because she couldn’t talk. She was wearing a gorilla T-shirt. She had a stuffed gorilla,” Jesue said.

Chip the gorilla enjoys a vegetable snack as visitors at the Detroit Zoo came to see him and his half brothers, Kongo, and Pende, before they are moved later this summer to another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Jesue has known the three gorillas for nearly a decade and described them as “the best ever.”

“We know what kind of an impact that they made on our lives as keepers and we get that unique bonus of being able to work with them every single day and have special relationships, so knowing that that also affects the visitors, and that they are invested in their well-being just as much as we are, it’s been really great to kind of also help us out as we’re going through this emotional transition,” Jesue said.

As Kongo the gorilla, foreground, walks away after getting a snack, his half brother, Chip, walks up front to get his treat.

Mary Chris Chapp and her husband were among zoo members who went to say goodbye to the three and snap photos of them on Sunday.

“We wanted to make sure that we get to see the brothers before they left,” said Chapp, 57, of Sterling Heights.

The Chapp family are longtime zoo visitors, estimating over 60 visits, and said the gorillas were one of their kids’ favorite animals to see.