The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chimpanzee, Charlie, Dies at Age 39 YO

Veterinarians and animal-care staff rushed to the scene but four female chimpanzees were surrounding Charlie, zoo officials said in a news release. It took several minutes to get the females away and Charlie was already dead when veterinarians got to him.

A memorial event for Charlie is being planned, officials said.
Zoo visitors can offer condolences or share favorite memories of Charlie on the zoo's web site.

A zoo volunteer told longtime keeper Dave Thomas that Charlie the chimpanzee appeared to suffer a couple of seizures just before he died Thursday afternoon at the Oregon Zoo.
Charlie the chimpanzee stood in front of his Oregon Zoo exhibit's viewing window Thursday, made one final, bristling display of dominance, then dropped to the ground and died.

The chimp's death shocked and saddened employees, who long had referred to the primate with the distinctive, regal bearing as the Prince of the Zoo. His was 39 -- deep into middle age for his species.

"I thought I'd be leaving him, not him leaving me," said Dave Thomas, 60, the senior primate keeper who worked with Charlie for 36 years. "This is an end of an era."

Charlie was born in Africa in 1970, where an American mining contractor saw villagers leading the baby chimp down a road. Figuring the animal was bound for the cook pot, the contractor, Edward Miller, bought him.

When he returned to the Northwest, Miller brought the chimp, and in 1972 he turned Charlie over to what then was known as the Washington Park Zoo.

He joined four female parentless chimps and the five lived together ever since.

Volunteers taught the young animals basic sign language and sometimes led them from cages on 50-foot leashes so the chimps could climb trees.

Among those early volunteers was Thomas, who later hired on and became Charlie's No. 1 advocate. The story of the decades-long relationship between the man and the chimp was featured May 24 in The Sunday Oregonian.

Although keepers admired Charlie's intelligence and curiosity, they kept a respectful distance after an incident years ago in which the chimp bit off the end of a former zoo director's finger. For a month afterward, keepers said, the chimp acted as if he knew he'd done something terrible.

Charlie's facial hair grew wiry and gray, and white fur dusted his broad back. But the nearly 5-foot-tall, 160-pound chimp had appeared fit and healthy.

On Thursday morning, Charlie ran to greet keepers as usual, said Bill LaMarche, zoo spokesman. Through the day, the chimp scaled high into his climbing structure and cooperated for training.

But sometime before 3 p.m. there was a commotion near the viewing window. Thomas saw a chimp down and heard a volunteer yell that it was Charlie. The female chimps screamed, and by the time keepers cleared them away and got to Charlie, he was gone.

Late Thursday, veterinarians performed a necropsy, or animal autopsy, to try to determine the cause of death. They suspect the chimp may have had a heart attack or stroke.

Charlie outlived one son and daughter. Another son, Joshua, is the alpha male at the Kansas City Zoo. At least one grandchild, a female born in Dallas, survives him.

Katy Muldoon: 503-221-8526 or; Eric Mortenson: 503-294- 7636 or


Slideshow: Oregon Zoo Chimp Dies Unexpectedly

This is a press release courtesy of the Oregon Zoo

Charlie, proud patriarch of the Oregon Zoo's chimpanzees, passed away unexpectedly on exhibit this afternoon. As an infant, Charlie was nearly killed as part of the bushmeat trade in Africa. He came to the United States as a pet and was given to the zoo in May of 1972.

Dave Thomas, senior primate keeper at the zoo and one of Charlie's original caretakers, described the charismatic 39-year-old, 160-pound chimp as the "Prince of the Zoo," a title bestowed on him by zoo veterinarian Mitch Finnegan.

"We thought we'd have another 20 years," Thomas said. "It's the end of an era, and the zoo will never be the same. We have to go on though -- to provide care and support for our remaining females: Delilah, Leah, Coco and Chloe."

Charlie, known as the Prince of the Oregon Zoo, often perched on his "throne" at the center of the chimpanzee exhibit. Photo by Michael Durham, courtesy of the Oregon Zoo.

"As we experience our own personal grief, we take solace in knowing our primate care staff provided the best care and maintained deep friendships with Charlie," said Mike Keele, the zoo's acting director. "He will be in our hearts forever."

A memorial event for Charlie is being planned, and details will be provided early next week. In addition, zoo visitors can offer condolences or share favorite memories of Charlie on the Oregon Zoo's Web site.

Charlie had an eventful day, as a national zoo conference -- the annual meeting of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums -- brought people to the Oregon Zoo whom he had not seen since the 1970s and '80s.

"It was a beautiful day that ended abruptly just after 2 p.m.," Thomas said. "Charlie was having some wonderful experiences, seeing friends he had not seen in a very long time."

When Charlie went down, a volunteer was the first to see him in distress. Senior Keeper Dave Thomas was the first staff person on the scene and called the zoo's animal emergency code on the radio. Veterinarians and animal-care staff rushed to the scene, but the four females were surrounding Charlie, out of concern for him. It took several minutes to get the females away, so veterinary staff could offer aid. Tragically, when the veterinary staff got to him, he had already passed away.

The primate keeper staff has since placed the females back together. Leah and Delilah immediately went back to the spot where Charlie fell. Thomas believes they will continually look for him in the next few days and weeks, knowing something is terribly wrong. Primate keepers will not be taking time off to grieve and will do their best to keep to their regular routines in an effort to provide comfort to the females. Grief counselors will be available for zoo staff and volunteers.

"The girls need to know that we are still here for them," Thomas said.

Charlie was highly intelligent and was the undisputed leader of the zoo's troop. However, he was not born into this life of luxury. It was just by chance that he was saved from the perils of the bushmeat trade.

Charlie was born in the wild forests of Africa around 1970. At the time, Edward Miller, a mineral contractor, was working in mines on the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. One day, Miller and his family saw some locals walking around town with an infant chimp, and he knew its mother must have been killed. Given the prevalent local bushmeat trade, Miller realized the orphaned baby chimp might well end up another casualty. He offered to purchase the chimp from the locals, no questions asked. Miller named him Charlie, after the code name for the mining site where he worked.

Charlie lived as part of Miller's family for about a year, playing and sleeping alongside his three young boys. Miller knew, however, that the chimp's needs would eventually exceed what his family could provide. Because Charlie could no longer survive on his own in the wild, Miller decided to bring him to the United States (which was legal in the 1970s). It was determined that Charlie would be taken care of at the Oregon Zoo, but only under certain conditions: Miller wanted to ensure that Charlie would get special treatment from his keepers, called "enrichment," since he was already so accustomed to living and interacting with humans.

The zoo made the Miller family and Charlie a promise, a promise that has been kept and extended to the other zoo residents. Starting with Charlie, zookeepers began to develop an enrichment program. During its initial phase, the enrichment program focused on human-animal interaction, including work on language acquisition. Charlie learned American Sign Language and was able to respond to and initiate basic commands of communication. The enrichment program also involved playing, training and physical contact with the animals.

After years of trying different enrichment strategies, the modern ideals of enrichment have shifted away from human interaction in order to preserve animals' wild nature and behavior. Now, enrichment encourages natural behaviors through training, exercise and toys. Enrichment gives choice, change and control to the animals -- engaging all their senses to make sure they receive mental and physical stimulation.

Although the focus of enrichment has evolved, it all began with Charlie here at the Oregon Zoo. Thomas noted that working with Charlie -- and, subsequently, with the other chimps at the zoo -- started the careers of many dedicated people who work in further developing the zoo's enrichment program.

While at the zoo, Charlie became a parent and even a grandparent. The chimp who so nearly became a tragic casualty of the bushmeat market changed many lives, both human and animal. A few years ago, Miller returned to the zoo to visit Charlie. It was difficult to say whether Charlie recognized his old friend -- but once Miller left, Charlie kept looking for him.

In May, The Oregonian published an in-depth feature on Charlie highlighting the importance of the zoo's chimpanzee patriarch to the primate keepers, veterinary staff, volunteers and the entire zoo staff.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission to inspire the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Washington's pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot butterflies, western pond turtles, Oregon spotted frogs and Kincaid's lupine. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Zoo visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit for fare and route information.

General admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo's Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $2 per car is also required. Additional information is available at or by calling 503-226-1561.

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