Chimp dies in Lowry Zoo fight
Staffers are mourning Herman, who had lived there since 1965.
By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published June 9, 2006
TAMPA - Herman the chimpanzee, a beloved fixture at Lowry Park Zoo since 1965, died Thursday after a violent altercation with another male chimp in the zoo's primate display area.
The 42-year-old African-born alpha male underwent hours of surgery following the afternoon brawl and died shortly after 7 p.m., zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said.
"Herman was a very, very well-loved animal at the zoo," Nelson said. "Our staff is just devastated, and he will be very dearly missed."
Rukiya, a 26-year-old female chimp who intervened in Thursday's fight, received injuries requiring stitches. She was expected to recover.
It was unclear what caused the fight between Herman and Bamboo, another older chimp who has resided at the zoo for five years, Nelson said. Bamboo received minor injuries.
In the complex social hierarchy of chimpanzees, Herman has been the zoo's dominate male since he arrived. Bamboo is believed to have been on the bottom.
"It seems we had a changing of the guard," Nelson said Thursday night.
Perhaps Bamboo sensed weakness in the aging Herman, she said. Perhaps it had something to do with the introduction of a baby chimp named Sasha to her potential surrogate mother, Rukiya.
"No one can know exactly why the chimps acted this way," Nelson said.
Sasha, a 6-month-old chimp, arrived at Lowry Park Zoo three weeks ago from the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama after her birth mother rejected her, Nelson said.
Sasha has not been introduced yet to the exhibit, but zookeepers gradually have been matching her with Rukiya, who they hope will become the baby's surrogate mother.
Rukiya successfully became a surrogate to another chimp named Alex, now 8. Zookeepers had no reason to believe she couldn't be a surrogate again.
Nelson said it was unclear whether Sasha's behind-the-scenes presence played a role in the killing.
As soon as the skirmish erupted among the often aggressive animals, the zoo staff responded as it always does. Staffers sprayed the primates with water, causing them to separate and giving them time to cool down.
When zookeepers called the animals into the night house, only the two males remained. The fight continued until Bamboo seemed to lose interest and wandered away, allowing zoo workers to retrieve the injured Herman.
A few visitors were watching as it began to unfold, Nelson said. But security quickly escorted them out and closed that section of the park.
Officials will conduct a necropsy of Herman's body to help pinpoint the cause of death. It was unclear Thursday night what will happen to his remains.
The average life expectancy for a chimp is 50 years.
For now, zoo employees are mourning and scratching their heads over what was going through Bamboo's mind.
"They've been living happily together for years," Nelson said.
[Last modified June 9, 2006, 05:46:44]
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