Ivan the gorilla will be cremated in Atlanta and his ashes returned to Washington, according to Ron Irwin, spokesman for the Tacoma family that owned the famous ape for most of his life.
Officials at Zoo Atlanta, where the 50-year-old gorilla died Monday, would have preferred to let scientists use Ivan’s 315-pound body for research, Irwin said, but he and other members of his family decided against it.
“We just want him to rest in peace,” Irwin said Thursday.
“They say researching a gorilla is a very rare opportunity,” Irwin said. “I suppose there’s a need for that, but it’s not really what the family wants.”
Thoughts of what the research might entail played a role in the family’s decision, Irwin said. The thought of Ivan being dissected or skeletonized with flesh-eating beetles gave them the creeps.
“I just don’t want to see him boiled or eaten by bugs,” he said. “He’s gone though enough.”
Zoo Atlanta spokeswoman Keisha Hines said the zoo was waiting for final word from the family and Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, which technically owns Ivan.
“We’ll proceed as quickly as possible after that happens,” Hines said.
The Seattle zoo intends go along with whatever the Irwins and Zoo Atlanta decide, said Woodland Park Zoo spokesman David Schaefer.
Irwin’s father, Earl, bought Ivan as an infant, and he was kept for 28 years in a concrete-and-glass cage at the B&I Shopping Center on South Tacoma Way. He became a star attraction there.
A seven-year struggle over Ivan’s future began in 1987 when animal-rights activists, and PAWS in particular, began pressuring the Irwins to have Ivan shipped to a zoo where he could live in more natural surroundings and consort with other gorillas.
The Irwins resisted, saying they feared moving the human-raised animal across the country and putting him in unfamiliar surroundings would be too traumatic for him.
B&I bankruptcy proceedings led to Ivan’s being shipped to Zoo Atlanta in 1994.
Ivan was given a permanent home at Zoo Atlanta, but he technically was there on long-term loan. The Irwins and Woodland Park retained the right to say what would happen to him after his death.
When Ivan died under general anesthesia after a physical exam, he was one of the oldest gorillas in captivity.
In the days since Ivan’s death, many people in Tacoma have called for some sort of public ceremony or permanent display in the gorilla’s remembrance.
Irwin said he and his family are open to the idea but added that he had no idea what form that would take or where might be a suitable location.
“We really not sure how to do that,” he said. “I don’t want to make a spectacle out of it. He was, unfortunately, a spectacle for too long.”
“It’s one of those tough decisions,” Irwin said. “I feel like any kind of a display would be exploiting him. He had too much of that in his life. I don’t want that in his death.”
The president of New Tacoma Cemeteries in University Place contacted The News Tribune on Wednesday, volunteering to donate space for Ivan.
“It would be our honor to have Ivan placed here and once again be ‘home’ where he belongs,” Ron Messenger wrote in an email. “Many options would also exist for a monument he so deserves.”
Vicki McCaret was among several people who contacted The News Tribune after Ivan’s death, saying something needs to be done in his memory.
“There are a lot of us who are taking this really personal,” McCaret said. “I myself feel like I’m grieving his loss, and I’m certain I’m not the only one.”
McCaret said she came to Tacoma in 1985 as a 13-year-old runaway from foster homes and found solace communing with Ivan at the B&I.
“I missed my family, and he was everything to me,” McCaret said. “I guess I felt like I was caged, too. When you’d go there and he’d hit the glass or look in your eyes, he had a way of grabbing at your heart.
“He’s a part of Tacoma that needs to be acknowledged,” McCaret said. “Something needs to happen for him. He deserves this.”