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Chimpanzee Bobbie bows out peacefully

4 November 2004

Chimpanzee Bobbie bows out peacefully

West African born chimpanzee Bobbie came to Auckland Zoo from Regents Park Zoo, London, in 1956 when he was two years of age.

Auckland Zoo’s elderly ‘tea party’ chimpanzee Bobbie passed away peacefully yesterday afternoon.

The 50-year-old, who was born wild in West Africa, came to Auckland Zoo with fellow chimpanzees Minnie, Josie and Janie from Regents Park Zoo, London, in 1956. The foursome were Auckland Zoo’s first chimpanzees, and featured in tea parties until these were discontinued in 1963 as attitudes to animals in captivity changed.

The death of Bobbie leaves his companion Janie, also 50 years of age, as the last remaining ‘tea party’ chimp.

A major health check four years ago revealed Bobbie had an abnormal heart rate, and he had been on medication for this. Auckland Zoo vet Dr John Potter, who carried out a post-mortem on the chimpanzee last night, says the cause of death appears to be heart failure from his condition. A keeper, who had seen the two chimpanzees at lunchtime, revisited them two hours later to give them an afternoon snack, noticed that Bobbie was lying down in his indoor den, and realised something was amiss.

Bobbie was a long-term resident at the zoo. He was thought of with a great deal of affection, and will be missed by staff past and present. Staff are comforted by the fact the he died peacefully after a long life.

“Bobbie had a pretty good life after the tea parties were over, and he reached a great age,” says Senior Primate keeper Christine Tintinger, who knew Bobbie for 24 years.

“We all knew he had a ‘dicky’ heart, but he was active and healthy in himself. He went peacefully and quickly. You can’t ask for better than that – it’s the way we all want to go!

“Like Janie, Bobbie has seen a lot of people come and go, and a lot of changes take place at the zoo over the past 44 years. In many ways these two are our historians of the zoo,” says Auckland Zoo Life Sciences Manager Maria Finnigan, who worked with the chimpanzees the 1980s, and is the chimpanzee studbook keeper for the Australasian region.

While attempts were made to integrate the old chimpanzees with the zoo’s younger group in the 1980s, they were not successful.

“It was clear that the ‘tea party’ chimps could never be integrated with mother-reared chimpanzees, because they talked a completely different language. Chimpanzees take on human characteristics so rapidly when raised in a human environment, and because of this they often lose their ability to be able to socialise properly with naturally reared chimpanzees,” says Ms Finnigan.

Bobbie was considered to be a ‘founder’ animal, because he was unrelated to any other chimpanzee in the Australasian region. However, his inability to interact with naturally socialised chimpanzees meant he did not breed. It is unfortunate he is not genetically represented (while some of his sperm was sent to Sydney University, it was not of sufficient motility to use).

“In the 1950s chimpanzees were raised by humans and tea parties were the norm in a number of zoos. The consequences of this decision were chimpanzees that were unable to live in normal social groupings. We know that chimpanzees are social and live in multiple family communities, hence our long planned for decision to move our group of six younger chimpanzees to Hamilton Zoo’s expansive purpose-built facility. It’s a move that also enables us to concentrate on just one great ape species, the endangered orangutan,” says Ms Finnigan.

Chimpanzee Janie will remain in her current Auckland Zoo enclosure where she appears to derive comfort from her familiar surroundings. Her life will continue to be enriched through the people she has come to know, and through food items and enrichment activities keepers provide.

“Right now Janie is naturally feeling displaced by what has happened, and keepers are monitoring her very closely. Her welfare and behaviour at this time is of our primary concern, and she appears to be doing okay, given the circumstances,” says Ms Finnigan.


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