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Two Bonobos Had A Special Connection To September 11, 2001

Unga, the bonobo that was bound for Columbus Zoo on September 11, 2001
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Unga, one of two bonobos in route to the Columbus Zoo on September 11, 2001

People around the world were stranded on planes bound for the U.S. on September 11th, 2001 after American airspace was closed following the terrorist attacks. But there were also some special animals that were stranded on one of the planes.

Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Audra Meinelt says two bonobos from Germany were on their way that morning.

“So they were flying across the oceans and were about an hour outside U.S. airspace when the twin towers fell and like many, many other planes, they were redirected.”

The bonobos’ plane was one of the 38 jetliners redirected to the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland. They stayed in the cargo hold with two zookeepers for five days before the planes could leave. They were with 6,595 human passengers who were also stranded in the tiny town that barely had 10,000 residents. But that small community came together to accommodate all of those who were stranded, including the bonobos. Residents of Gander provided food, shelter, and many other services to the passengers who were stranded in that town.

One bonobo, Kosana, was quarantined briefly at the zoo and was transferred to a zoo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin after that time. But the other, Unga, lived in Columbus until she died in March at the age of 29.

Unga and Gander, bonobos at the Columbus Zoo
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Unga and her son, Gander, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The story doesn't end there. Two years after Unga arrived at the zoo, she gave birth in December 2003. The first of her offspring was named Gander, in honor of the people in Gander, Newfoundland. Gander is still at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, along with two of Unga's other offspring, Jerry and Elema.

Gander the bonobo at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Gander the bonobo at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The story of that effort was documented in the book, "The Day the World Came to Town" by Jim Defede and also in the Broadway musical, "Come From Away."

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