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Taronga's much-loved chimpanzee, Lulu
Taronga's much-loved chimpanzee, Lulu

Lulu led a fascinating and globetrotting life.

Believed to have been caught in the wild, her age is estimated at 62 years.

A lot of Lulu’s history is lost in the passage of time, so much so, that the international official records cannot be certain of what Zoological Institution she came from when she arrived in Australia.

What I can tell you is from my knowledge and having spoken to several older generation keepers, so her story before coming to Taronga (briefly) is this.

She was initially hand-raised in a family home in Florida USA, but when she was unable to stay there she was moved to a roadside circus where she performed on a bike wearing a tutu. After that she was transferred to an accredited American Zoo. What we do know is that she arrived at Taronga on 31 March 1965.

Older generation keepers speak of Lulu’s extraordinary intelligence, and there are a multitude of stories spoken of her. Whether these are true or not, we would like to believe they are.

Lulu once escaped from the original chimp exhibit she was in. Her head keeper found her, took her hand and quietly walked her back into the exhibit.

There are tales of her finding scrubbing brushes in the exhibit and using them to scrub the walls.

When the Chimp group was being moved from the old enclosure to the new exhibit in 1981, Lulu apparently upon being darted for transport, disassembled the dart and then reassembled it before succumbing to the drug.

Once in the new chimp exhibit after 1981, Lulu was seen raking the grass with a rake that had been accidentally left behind in the exhibit by a keeper.

Given her upbringing, it is a testament to her intelligence that she was able to be an influential figure in Taronga’s Chimp Community for many, many years.

While at Taronga, Lulu gave birth to 8 children, she has 6 grandchildren across different institutions and by her grandson has 7 great grandchildren.

Lulu proved to be a significant figure amongst Taronga’s world renowned chimp group for many years.

Her upbringing meant that she did have special relationships with specific keepers and some others, surprisingly enough she was enamoured by our senior veterinarian, Larry Vogelnest and an associate veterinarian, Rob Johnson. I myself feel privileged that out of our keeping staff she seemed to like me. No day was ever better than one with an enthusiastic greeting from Lulu.

Her particular life experience was never better exemplified than by her transfer from the Chimp exhibit to the Orang Utan house during the redevelopment of the Chimp exhibit between 2009 and 2011. A lot of individuals in the group found the experience quite confronting. However for Lulu it was simply another change of location in her long life history. I remember succinctly being in the van with her on the way back to the redeveloped Chimpanzee exhibit in 2011 and she was totally absorbed with watching the view of people in the zoo as we travelled along. No stress, just fascination. 

Lulu was an old individual and as I mentioned in my blog on Bessie back in November 2011, there is no cure for old age.

Lulu had suffered many age related ailments for several years but her strength of character kept her going.

In March this year she sustained an injury like many she had experienced before (it is a rough and tumble world for Chimpanzees) but this injury severely restricted her mobility. Unfortunately over the subsequent months her physical limitations did not improve under treatment, and she’s actually deteriorated very significantly over the last few weeks.

It was time to say Goodbye.

Lulu went by many names: Lulu, Lulu bell, Sweetheart, Darling, the list goes on. She sincerely touched the lives of many generations of keepers that have looked after her. We mourn her departure but she will never be forgotten.

- Allan Schmidt, Senior Keeper Primates

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