The Hamilton Zoo team has said a heartbreaking final farewell to its much-loved chimpanzee ‘Sally’ and announced it will name a special spot in the zoo after her.
Zoo Director, Dr Baird Fleming said Sally – whose 50th birthday was celebrated in October last year – showed a rapid decline in health at the weekend.
“Due to an underlying heart condition, the primate and vet team have always kept an eye on this precious girl,” said Dr Fleming.
“Sally was a great patient and regularly allowed her trusted caregivers to get images of her heart. Over the weekend, for reasons unknown, Sally stopped weight bearing on her right leg and on Monday she showed signs of further decline, later refusing to move or engage with the rest of her troop or keepers – she seemed to be in significant pain.”
“This led to a thorough health check on Tuesday under general anaesthesia. During the procedure it became clear something new had arisen that was complicating her already fragile health. After much discussion with the primate team, Welfare Committee and veterinarians, the difficult decision to euthanise was made.”
Dr Fleming said they do not know what caused the acute nature of her decline, but hoped a thorough post-mortem would provide answers.
“If there’s anything new, we can learn and use that knowledge for the care of our chimps and others in human care.”
Primate Keeper, Rowena Fraioli said the Zoo team was devastated by the loss.
“Sally was such a special part of the Zoo whaanau, we all adored her, and her happy dance and beautiful vocalisations that greeted us mornings and evenings they will be so missed.”
Sally was one of Hamilton Zoo’s most recognisable residents. She would often be found in her special spot at the bottom viewer by the window with a blanket, preferably pink as that was her favourite colour, enjoying the sun and engaging with visitors.
“She just loved people – children and older men particularly – she’d get extra excited if they had facial hair and would run over to see them,” said Mrs Fraioli.
Rejected shortly after her birth at Auckland Zoo by her mother, a former ‘tea-party chimp’, Sally spent the first two years of her life being hand-raised. She was taken in by Auckland Zoo head primate keeper at the time, Richard Seccombe and his wife Georgie, who raised her alongside their own children.
She returned to Auckland Zoo and formed a troop with sister Suzie, Mike and Lucy and their sons Lucifer and Luka. In October 2004, the troop transferred to Hamilton Zoo. Sally thrived after spending time in the purpose-built habitat, learning chimp behaviour from the others and solidifying her place in the troop.
Over the past 16 years Sally became a firm favourite not only with the caregivers but also visitors. An earlier Facebook post informing the public that Sally was unwell attracted many well-wishing comments and featured photos and memories shared by visitors who Sally touched throughout her life.
Plans are underway to acknowledge Sally’s special place, the bottom viewer where she spent so much time, by renaming it ‘Sally’s Window’.
“The memorable connections Sally has made with so many people over the years have been invaluable to her species, and it is her legacy. It is such a privilege to experience a moment with a beautiful spirit like Sally and these moments are what encourage people to understand the vital importance of conservation,” said Dr Fleming.
Life expectancy in the wild for chimpanzees is around 30-40 years, although in zoos they can live up to 10 years longer. Life in the wild for these endangered primates is tough due to habitat destruction, hunting for bush meat and the illegal pet trade.
The Zoo team said the best way for public to honour Sally is to make a difference in the lives of her wild counterparts by purchasing products that feature the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo to aid in the conservation of chimp habitats or to donate to the Jane Goodall Foundation which does amazing work to protect chimpanzees.