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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Albino gorilla dying of skin cancer
Snowflake the gorilla
Snowflake was captured in 1966
A white gorilla which has enchanted visitors to Barcelona Zoo for decades is dying of skin cancer, Spanish vets say.

Snowflake is expected to live for only a few months.

Vets have known since 2001 that the albino gorilla has the disease, but it has suddenly progressed.

Visitors to the zoo have been filing past his cage to say goodbye.

Snowflake has been at the zoo since being captured by a hunter in Equatorial Guinea in 1966. He is believed to be 38-40 years old - around 80 in human terms.

Though we've tried our best to protect him this is an incurable, progressive disease, and it will follow its natural course
Jesus Fernandez
Zoo chief vet
Snowflake (Copito de Nieve in Spanish) is thought to be the world's only living white gorilla.

"Being albino, he's very sensitive to the sun," said the zoo's chief vet, Jesus Fernandez.

"Though we've tried our best to protect him this is an incurable, progressive disease, and it will follow its natural course.

"We don't know how long he'll live, but probably not more than a few months."

Last respects

The zoo has promised to ensure that Snowflake has a "dignified death".

"We don't want to prolong his life unnecessarily or make him suffer," said zoo chief Jordi Portabella.

Barcelona city officials are encouraging people to visit Copito, but have called on the zoo to allow families to pay their final visit free of charge.

Snowflake has been receiving antibiotics and anti-depressants, and has undergone three operations for the cancer.

He has often appeared disdainful and grumpy during his long captivity - but has not been unproductive.

When Copito de Nieve is gone, an era of Barcelona will end
Miguel San Llehy
Zoo spokesman
He has produced 22 offspring with three different females and has a number of grandchildren.

Zoo officials say he has mellowed in later life, possibly due in part to the drugs he has been receiving.

The city may honour him by naming a street after him, or erecting a monument.

"When Copito de Nieve is gone, an era of Barcelona will end," said zoo spokesman Miguel San Llehy.


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