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*Africa's oldest chimpanzee dead at 66

December 23, 2008 | 11:18 am

Gregoire

*The headline on an earlier version of this post mistakenly said Gregoire was the world's oldest chimpanzee.

Gregoire, Congo legend and oldest known living chimpanzee, died peacefully in his bed (a pile of eucalyptus leaves) at Jane Goodall’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center on Dec. 17. He was 66 years old.

Gregoire was the poster child and ambassador for Goodall’s efforts to protect chimpanzees and end the illegal commercial bush-meat trade.

After surviving more than 40 years in a barren cage, Gregoire spent his last 11 years in peace at a sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees. When Jane met Gregoire in 1990, he was barely recognizable:

"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. Was this really a chimpanzee? . . . Above his cage was a sign that read ‘Shimpanse 1944.'

Thanks to Jane intervening on Gregoire’s behalf, his twilight years were filled with plenty of food and play.

At night he shared his nest with his favorite female, Clara, in a dormitory room that also housed La Vielle and Stephanie. During the day he enjoyed playing games of chase with caretakers and being tickled. Another favorite game involved sticking out his leg for people to grab. He also loved grooming people (heads, arms and ears, mostly), sitting and watching the activity around him, and eating treats, especially balls of sticky rice.

With one good eye and one amazing heart, Gregoire died loved, happy and free.

-- Graham McCann

Photo: Jane Goodall Institute

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