Africas oldest chimp, a conservation icon, dies at 66

December 24th, 2008 - 12:45 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Dec 24 (ANI): Gregoire, Africas oldest known chimpanzee, widely regarded as an international symbol for the conservation of all animals, has died at the age of 66 years.

According to a report in Discovery News, Gregoire passed away peacefully in his sleep at Jane Goodall Institutes (JGIs) Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo.

He died next to a female chimpanzee named Clara, from whom he had been inseparable for many years.

Gregoire was an incredibly resilient being, Lisa Pharoah, JGI Africa Program manager for West and Central Africa, told Discovery News. Particularly for our Congolese staff, he served as a symbol for how we can all overcome adversity. There was such a gentleness about him, she added.

For more than 40 years, Gregoire lived in solitary confinement in a barren cage at the Brazzaville Zoo in the Republic of Congos capital city.

Conservationist Aliette Jamar was the first to notice the animals poor condition and contacted Jane Goodall, who was horrified when she first saw the caged chimp.

I gazed at this strange being, alone in his bleak, cement-floored cage. His pale, almost hairless skin was stretched tightly over his emaciated body so that every bone could be seen. His eyes were dull as he reached out with a thin, bony hand for a proffered morsel of food, Goodall later recalled.

She arranged for a caretaker to look after Gregoire and provide him with a healthier diet.

In 1997, however, the intermittent Congo civil war worsened, leading to fighting just half a mile away from the zoo.

With each shell explosion, Gregoire would duck under his sleeping shelf, to the point that his back was scraped raw.

Gregoire, along with other chimpanzees at the Brazzaville Zoo, was airlifted to Point Noire and then to the Tchimpounga sanctuary.

Shell shocked, Gregoire required time to recover. When he did, the chimps outgoing personality blossomed.

The Tchimpounga center houses 142 other primates, mostly orphaned chimpanzees whose parents were killed due to the bushmeat trade, and former house pets. (ANI)

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