Grand Old Chimpanzee Fifi Turns 60
Monday 21st May 2007

Taronga Zoo's oldest Chimpanzee ‘Fifi' turns 60. Photo: Rick Stevens.

Taronga Zoo's Chimpanzee family will be celebrating a birthday milestone today with a special vegetable cake, watermelons and additional coconuts as their oldest member ‘Fifi' turns 60.

Taronga's chimpanzee family is recognised internationally as one of the most significant in the world, with an extremely successful breeding record as well as having been one of the first zoos to house and exhibit chimpanzees as a group.

The group now consists of 19 individuals, with Fifi being the oldest, followed closely by Lulu and Bessie who are 55 and 57 respectively. The youngest member is Shikamoo who turns four this year.

Fifi, believed to be one of the oldest chimpanzees alive today, often enjoys a hot chamomile tea from her keepers first thing in the morning to start the day.

Senior Primate Keeper, Louise Grossfeldt, said: "The typical life span of a chimpanzee is about 40 - 45 years, though in zoos they have been known to live up to 60 years of age and above. Fifi is special character and has endured some difficult times with her health to still be here with us today. It is a credit to all the zoo keepers and veterinarians that these incredible animals are so fit and healthy."

In her prime, Fifi was one of the highest ranked females of the group and even today she takes a senior role in the female hierarchy and is still very well respected despite her old age and frailty.

"I believe she is the backbone of the group and she's always the peacemaker when there are arguments among families. Fifi continues to enjoy her life to the fullest with the rest of the group and hopefully for many more years to come," Louise said.

Chimpanzees are human's closest living relative, sharing over 98 % of our DNA. They are extremely sociable animals that live in groups and extended families varying in size from five to 40 chimps, ruled by a dominant or "alpha" male.

The Zoological Parks Board of NSW (ZPB) is heavily involved in primate conservation projects and it was one of the five founders of the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary for orphaned Chimpanzees in Uganda. The ZPM also supports in-situ conservation projects including for the endangered Silvery Gibbons in Java and is involved in international breeding programs for endangered primates including the Western Lowland Gorilla.

Chimpanzees in the wild, although found across central and west Africa from Senegal to Tanzania, are under threat from habitat loss due to practices such as forest clearance, the bushmeat industry and the pet trade.

The damage to Chimpanzees populations caused by these trades is explained to visitors to Taronga Zoo by keepers during the daily Keeper Talk at 1:00pm.

Taronga Zoo's Chimpanzee family is proudly supported by Coca-Cola.

Taronga and Western Plains Zoos care for 4000 animals from over 350 species, provide conservation messages to over 1.5 million visitors and conservation education to over 100,000 school students annually. The Zoos also conduct a huge range of conservation research, breeding and in situ projects from Antarctica to Mongolia and throughout Australia and Asia, while providing wildlife health services to thousands of native animals each year.


Chimpanzee

(Pan troglodytes)

The chimpanzee is the closest living relative to humans. Both humans and chimpanzees belong in the classification group primates.

Chimpanzees are social animals that live in a group. The group size can vary from 5 to 40 chimps and is ruled by a dominant or "alpha" male.

Males range up to about 1.5 m in height and weigh from 70 - 90 kg while the females are slightly smaller.

Communication within the group is achieved through a series of different cries or vocalisations. These are very loud to allow communication to occur over a large distance. Chimpanzees also communicate through gestures, posture and facial expressions.

The typical life span of a chimp is about 40 - 45 years, though in captivity they have been known to live up to approx 60 years of age.

There is no breeding season for chimpanzees, like humans the female can breed at any time. Pregnancy lasts around 8 and a half months. Females normally produce a young every 4 - 5 years. Males are sexually active at 8 years of age while females are sexually active at 11 years.

Chimpanzees are only found in west and central Africa, from Senegal to Tanzania. They inhabit tropical forests, woodlands and savannah areas. Chimpanzees are both arboreal and terrestrial.

Chimpanzees are omnivorous. The main part of their diet is fruit but they also feed on leaves, seeds, pith, bark, insects, bird's eggs and meat.

Up until 30 years ago scientists' distinguished man from apes believing that man was the only animal that could make and use tools. Now research has shown that chimps are known to be tool users in the wild. It is a common practice for them to use sticks or long grass to extract termites and ants from mounds.

Chimpanzees are considered endangered and if no action is taken they will become extinct. The numbers have declined due to habitat destruction and hunting. Chimpanzees also have a low reproductive rate which makes them highly vulnerable to habitat loss and slow to replace depleted numbers.

Taronga's Chimpanzee Family

There are 19 individuals in Taronga's chimpanzee group. The oldest member and also the dominant female is Fifi at 60 years of age.

The chimpanzees are fed five times a day to simulate their natural feeding behaviour and their diet consist of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetable including berries, apples, pears, banana, tomatoes and green vegetation including fig leaves and hibiscus branches. In the warmer months the chimps often receive cold ‘fruiticles' which are pieces of fruit in an iceblock whereby the chimps have to break and dig into the ice to get the treats.

The exhibit also features two large fake termite mounds which are often filled with various treats including yogurt and jams. The chimps have to find various tools such as long twigs and branches to dig out the treats.

For more information contact Media Relations:

Ph: +61 2 9978 4606
Fax: +61 2 9978 4511
Email: tzpr@zoo.nsw.gov.au