Knoxville Zoo gorilla dies on Christmas

Bibi, a 39 year old female gorilla, shown here in an undated file photo provided by the Knoxville Zoo. Bibi died on December 25, 2007 under anesthesia for treatment of a medical condition.
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WVLT) If you've been to the Knoxville Zoo in the past eight years, chances are you've seen her.

We're talking about BiBi, one of the four most popular animals at the zoo.

But on Christmas morning, BiBi died during an emergency procedure.

Volunteer TV's Kim Bedford has more.

BiBi, the Zoo's 39 year old female gorilla, had been feeling sick for the past week or so and on Christmas Eve, she started to experience some swelling in her face, neck and chest.

During an emergency immobilization to diagnose the swelling on Christmas morning, BiBi died.

"BiBi was our only female gorilla and so she has a really special place with us because of that."

What zoo staff thought may have been arthritis...

Knoxville Zoo Animal Collections Director Lisa New: "Probably a week or so ago we started to see her holding her arm."

It turned out to be deadly for Bibi.

"She had an infection back in the base of her throat. It wasn't detectable just by an exam. It was only detectable through the necropsy results."

Bibi died under anesthesia on Christmas morning.

"It's not exactly the way you want to spend your Christmas, but you know, animals and people get sick anytime of the day," said New.

The 39-year old came to the Knoxville Zoo in 1999 with 25-year old Ernie. Before that, the two were in the Denver Zoo for 15 years.

"Ernie and Bibi are the ones who always like to go and on exhibit. They're always out and foraging and it's definitely a loss that we have to learn live with."

Ernie and Bibi were the best of friends...Today, their exhibit is empty...The staff let Ernie say goodbye to Bibi yesterday...

"He was definitely quiet and inquisitive and seemed confused. Today he is still looking for her. He's a little out of sorts. Time will tell," said New.

The zoo staff remembers Bibi most for her big heart and appetite.

"If she hears you rustling around in the kitchen in the morning, she would start this hysterical call for food. She was a really special, special animal."

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