Skip to content
All articles

Saving Max the gorilla from two life-threatening bullets

If you see Shirley walking around Pakuranga Park Village with her quiet demeanour, you would never think that she has dealt with all sorts of accidents, violent crime, and… the most surprising of it all… the shooting of a beloved South African gorilla!

Shirley moved to Pakuranga Park five years ago, after a lifetime of working as a radiographer in her native South Africa and then in New Zealand. She chose this village because of the selection of outstanding villas: “Coming from a big house, if you’re not sure if you want to move to a retirement village, a villa seems like an easy and sensible transition. You move here and have your own little home”.

Shirley loves Pakuranga Park because of its location and facilities, specifically the gym and pool. She exercises regularly, for example strolling along the 2.2 km of pathways around the village.

When Shirley moved to New Zealand in 2000, she was already 60 years old, but she was not ready to retire. Medical Diagnostic Radiographer is on one of Immigration New Zealand's skills shortage lists, so Shirley got a job straightaway with Middlemore Hospital. When a young NZ radiographer asked her if she knew about trauma, she burst off laughing… “Of course I know about trauma… I come from South Africa! And I helped to save Max the Gorilla!”

Shirley not only worked as a radiographer well past the average retirement age, but she also finished a postgraduate degree in Mammography when she was 70 years old.

On the 18th of July 1997, a robber who was fleeing the police entered the enclosure of Max the gorilla at Johannesburg Zoo. He shot the animal twice, in the shoulder and the chest, before being arrested. Shirley was finishing her night shift when she found out that Max was being transferred to her clinic, the only one with a helicopter pad on its rooftop, a space big enough to treat a gorilla.

“I was so nervous, not because of the animal who was under anaesthesia, but because I wanted to produce good films for the surgeons in order to remove the bullets. All the surgeons, nurses, policemen, and lots of patients were standing there looking at me… Of course I didn’t want to get it wrong, and have to repeat the x-rays!”

The nurses at the clinic were the ones who named the gorilla Max. The animal became a South African hero after this incident and the Zoo erected a statue in his honour.

Shirley did a great job with the x-rays and the surgeons were able to remove the bullets and save Max’s life. He recovered quite quickly and was transferred to his enclosure at the zoo, where he had a full recovery. Shirley has had a very exciting career but nothing beats the morning when she helped saving a Mighty Gorilla.

Latest articles

All News
Meet Eileen, the unstoppable nonagenarian
Epsom Village
News
Epsom Village
News
13 May 2022

Meet Eileen, the unstoppable nonagenarian

Some of our villagers are so vibrant and energetic that when they turn 90 they give us a big surprise! Eileen is one of the most active residents at Epsom Village. She organizes the Cinema sessions and the Quirky Quiz, she joins most social events and tags along to all the trips. And she doesn’t look one day past 70!
Read more
One-on-one personal tours.
Warkworth Oaks
Events
Warkworth Oaks
Events
12 May 2022

One-on-one personal tours.

Retire to the centre of this delightful town, and experience the convenience, comfort and security of Warkworth Oaks. One-on-one personal tours are scheduled for the 12th and 13th of May. Call Sylvie on 027 314 5767 or (09) 425 8766 now and find out what Real Living is all about.
Read more
Community garden
Warkworth Oaks
News
Warkworth Oaks
News
04 May 2022

Community garden

Check out the blooming wonderland of vegetables and herbs located behind our newest retirement village, Warkworth Oaks. Even if the village is located right in the middle of the town centre, the residents have managed to build this stunning community garden for all of them to enjoy.
Read more