Taronga Zoo is proud to care for some of the oldest chimpanzees in the world, and this year three of our 'old girls' are celebrating168 years between them.
Spitter aged 50, Lulu aged around 58 and Bessie aged 60 are the ‘old dames’ of the group. They are easily identifiable by their light-coloured hair and older-looking skin but they are out every day in the19-strong family group enjoying the winter sunshine. Having led very interesting and colourful lives, and having surpassed the average age expectancy of 45 for their species, they have earnt the right to take it easy and enjoy the expert care and attention lavished on them by our dedicated keepers and vets in their twilight years.
Sharing over 98 percent the same genetics as humans, it is interesting to see similarities between the aging apes and humans. Bessie, the oldest of the three at 60, seems to be 'not quiet with us' at times and we have speculated this could be due to elements of dementia setting in. We sometimes notice when we are moving the group throughout the day that Bessie sometimes takes a little longer or will forget to come inside with he family. After a couple of minutes Bessie realises and makes her way in, much to the delight of the patient keepers.
Lulu at 58 years old is the second eldest and moves around quite tentatively due to arthritis . In her younger years, Lulu performed in a circus so she is quite familiar with humans and when she first came to the Zoo surprised keepers by picking up a broom and sweeping her exhibit. She also has a soft spot for our Senior Vet, Larry who held her hand and comforted her when the chimp group recently moved to their temporary home.
Celebrating her 50th birthday this year Spitter was born at Taronga Zoo and has been a valuable contribution to Taronga’s chimp group and the species. She represents the start of three generations now within the Chimp group at Taronga and her male offspring have gone on to breeding programs in other Australian Zoo’s. She is exceptionally family orientated and a great mother but younger chimps soon learn to tread easy as Spitter can still put others in place.
The milestones of our three females reaching these incredible ages is a tribute to the expert keeping and veterinary care that they receive.