The Oregon Zoo said goodbye to one of its oldest and most beloved residents today. Leah, a chimpanzee known for her gentle demeanor and who helped launch a decades-long friendship with famed primatologist Jane Goodall, died in her sleep last night, medical staff say.
At 47, Leah was one of the oldest animals in the zoo, but she was still considered the “baby” of Portland’s group of very old chimpanzees. She is survived by her big sister Delilah, who turns 49 next month; male chimpanzee Jackson, 50; and troop leader Chloe, 53.
Wild chimps typically live around 33 years, and the median life expectancy in zoos is 41.7 years for female chimps, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The zoo participates in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan for chimpanzees, which are endangered in many of their range countries.
“It is a difficult loss for the entire zoo, but especially for its care staff,” said Dr Carlos Sanchez, the zoo’s chief veterinarian. “I hope knowing that we did everything we could for Leah, and that she passed away peacefully in her sleep, is a comfort. Her remarkable age speaks volumes about the good care she received over the years. years.
Leah was born on May 15, 1974, at the Oregon Zoo, then known as the Portland Zoological Gardens. Around this time, the zoo’s pioneering work with chimpanzees caught the attention of famed conservationist Jane Goodall, who visited there regularly, getting to know Leah and the others.
Last fall, as the group moved into their new home Primate Forest, the Guardians reflected on the decades-long relationship between Portland and Dr. Goodall and envisioned a new era of care for chimpanzees and other primates.
“During Leah’s early years, Dr. Goodall helped the zoo find funds for a large outdoor area to house all the chimpanzees,” keeper Colleen Reed said. “Primate Forest is a natural outgrowth of those early developments, and we’re very grateful that she got to experience that in her lifetime.”
Caregivers recalled Leah’s gentle but reserved personality.
“She was reserved at first, but once she opened up she was very sweet and playful,” Reed recalled. “I remember one of the first times she opened up to me. It was in the summer and she was rolling on her back in a huge nest she had made. She was smiling and reaching out to play.
“Leah came out of her shell a little more in her golden years, and she often initiated the game with Chloe,” added senior goaltender Asaba Mukobi. “His laughter was contagious – both to the other chimpanzees and to his caregivers.”
Being the youngest of the troupe, Leah usually followed what the others were doing, according to the guards, and was rarely the one who “passed first”. That wasn’t the case, however, when the zoo opened Primate Forest last year.
“Leah was the first to step into the new space,” Reed said. “Everyone seemed very confident and relaxed. We heard lots of happy vocalizations, and they seemed to feel right at home.
Source: Oregon Zoo