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The remarkable true story of Ivan, the gorilla at the centre of Disney’s new movie

Ivan was captured in the wild in the Congo. At the age of 3, he was sent off to live at a shopping center, where he spent 30 years in a solitary concrete encasement and be ogled at by humans.

MARWA HAMAD: Inspired by the remarkable true events that began in 1964 — and a popular children’s book of the same name — Disney’s latest live-action film tracks one silverback gorilla’s journey of self discovery, with a star-studded cast to bring his story to life… The film is an emotional, funny and subtle tale about cross-species friendship, the loneliness of captivity, the dangers of human intervention in the wild, and, ultimately, finding your passion and fighting for your freedom… But, who is the real Ivan, and what’s his story?…

Not many gorillas have their own Wikipedia and Facebook pages — but Ivan’s story was extraordinary, followed by thousands if not millions of people. Ivan spent 27 years living in a shopping mall in Tacoma, at one point even learning how to paint. It’s a story that would be considered bizarre an unusual for a human, but downright cruel for a 500 pound wild animal.

Ivan’s story began when he and six other gorillas were captured in the wild in the Congo, now Zaire, in 1964. They were ripped from their native land and sold to American businesses. All of the gorillas except for Ivan died in transit. (Female gorilla Burma died shortly after arrival due to pneumonia)…

Taken in by Ruben and Helen Johnston — and their 13-year-old son Larry — Ivan was raised nearly like a human toddler. His South Tacoma owners reportedly dressed him in diapers and spoon-fed him. But, by the age of three, he began to weigh more than 60 pounds (27kg) and it became too dangerous to keep him. In 1967, he was sent off to live at the B&I Shopping Centre in Tacoma, Washingon, where he spent nearly 30 years in a solitary concrete encasement measuring 14’ x 14’, where he was ogled at by human visitors.

He was so attached to his teen companion Larry, however, that Larry had to sleep in a cot in Ivan’s cage for two-and-a-half months, separated by bars, until Ivan got used to being on his own. In his confined living situation, where he wasn’t able to interact with any other gorillas or even feel grass, Ivan eventually became withdrawn…

Protests for Ivan’s cause date back to 1987, when the animal rights group Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) picketed the mall and called for Ivan’s transfer to a zoo. They sued owner Ron Irwin under the endangered species act, though he argued that Ivan had been captured before the 1973 law was passed.

In 1991, the National Geographic Explorer featured Ivan in a documentary titled ‘The Urban Gorilla’, to show what solitary living can do to an animal like him compared to other members of his species living in the wild. Animal rights activists latched onto his cause and didn’t let go…

After a nearly seven year campaign to free him, Ivan set foot on grass for the first time in nearly three decades on March 16, 1995, reports PAWS on their website. Because Tacoma’s zoos wouldn’t take him in, he was transferred to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle temporarily, before he was moved to Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia, where he spent the rest of his days. Ivan died at the age of 50 in 2012 during a medical procedure. SOURCE…

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