UK's oldest silverback gorilla celebrates 40th birthday at Paignton Zoo

He is a father figure to other younger gorillas at the zoo Credit: Miriam Haas

A gorilla at Paignton Zoo has turned 40 years old - making him the oldest of his kind in the UK.

Pertinax, or ‘Pert’ as he is lovingly known by staff, arrived at the Devon zoo from Cologne in April 1997.

The zoo keepers made sure Pert got lots of birthday presents on his big day Credit: Paignton Zoo

Keepers are throwing Pert a 40th birthday party on Ape Island at the zoo, with 40 hand-wrapped presents, a cake and decorations.

He has called the Marie Le Fevre Ape Centre in Paignton home ever since, along with two other male gorillas who joined him later.  

Pert is now in retirement, spending much of his time relaxing and pottering around the island at the zoo. Credit: Miriam Haas

He is a western lowland gorilla which is a critically endangered breed.

Paignton Zoo only houses male gorillas, but is still a vital part of the European breeding programme the species.

Their role in the programme is to raise young males in a natural social setting. When they are ready, they travel to other zoos as breeding males.

The 40-year-old gorilla enjoyed a 5 tier birthday cake as part of the celebrations Credit: Paignton Zoo

Pert, who is now classed as an older or 'silverback' gorilla, plays a father figure at the zoo - helping to raise younger gorillas as they come in.

The current bachelor group - made up of teenagers N’Dowe, Kivu and Kiondo - were raised by pert who taught them ‘gorilla etiquette’.

Senior keeper Gemma Keohane said: "He enjoys listening to music, especially when we sing to him. Working with Pert and the boys has been the highlight of my career."

Now he is 40, he has gone into 'retirement' which means he gets his own space away from the boisterous teens and spends his days pottering around the zoo.

Gemma added: "Pertinax is an absolute dream to work with. In his retirement his personality has really mellowed; he is much more relaxed and even plays with keepers, something that he never really did before."