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‘Sassy’ chimp adored by thousands over four decades ‘humanely euthanized’ at NC Zoo

Ruthie -- one of the original chimpanzees at the N.C. Zoo -- was “humanely euthanized” Thursday after nearly 40 years of drawing the admiration of thousands of visitors.
Ruthie -- one of the original chimpanzees at the N.C. Zoo -- was “humanely euthanized” Thursday after nearly 40 years of drawing the admiration of thousands of visitors. NC Zoo

Ruthie — one of the original chimpanzees at the N.C. Zoo — was “humanely euthanized” Thursday after nearly 40 years drawing the admiration of thousands.

The 47-year-old chimp died of heart disease, zoo officials said in an obituary posted on the zoo’s website Friday.

After Ruthie was euthanized, zoo workers presented her body to the chimpanzee troop “so they could observe the death and mourn the loss,” according to the zoo’s post. The zoo’s troop has 15 chimpanzees – 10 females and five males.

“Ruthie was silly, sassy and the most stubborn animal – including human – I’ve ever known,” Jennifer Ireland, the zoo’s curator of mammals, said in the post.

Animals frolic in the snow at the NC Zoo in Asheboro Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

“She was a great auntie to all the younger chimps we’ve had in our troop – in fact, she is the first chimp we introduced infants and youngsters to – and she remained a favorite companion as they grew up,” Ireland said.

Ruthie arrived at the zoo in 1980, and “only a few other animals have lived here longer – Maggie, another chimp, came in 1980, and the elephant C’sar came in 1978,” the zoo said in its post.

According to the zoo, Ruthie was diagnosed with heart disease seven years ago. Her condition “was being managed successfully with medication,” the zoo’s post said.

In October 2017, the chimp’s condition “advanced to congestive heart failure, which was monitored closely and managed with adjustments to her treatment regime after consultation with both veterinary and human cardiologists working with the Great Ape Heart Project,” according to her obituary. Last week, her disease rapidly worsened, the zoo said.

“Similar to humans, cardiovascular disease is very common in chimpanzees and is the leading cause of death in older great apes in human care,” Dr. Jb Minter, the zoo’s director of animal health, said in the obituary.

“We have been monitoring and treating Ruthie’s progressive heart disease for the past seven years, and I could not be prouder of the veterinary and animal care teams for their dedication to providing Ruthie with the exceptional care and attention needed as her disease progressed,” Minter said.

Her obituary said Ruthie “lived a full life for her species: female chimpanzees live for approximately 40 years under human care.”

Zoo officials estimated Ruthie was born in 1971. She had three offspring, including 22-year-old Ruby, who is still at the zoo. Rudy, born in 1983, died in 1996 at age 13. Her daughter, Bakhari, 20, lives at the St. Louis Zoo, according to Ruthie’s obituary.

“She was always happy to see me, greeting me with a head bob and an open mouth, typical ways chimps greet other chimps,” Ireland said in the obituary. “All of us will miss her tremendously.”

Dozens of zoo visitors posted online condolences.

“My heart goes out to the wonderful keepers who have cared for Ruthie over the years,” posted Debbie Salzar. “She was a beautiful chimp and will be missed by all.”

“Ruthie was an exquisite primate!” Kelli Morris Greene posted. “My daughter and nieces and nephews always enjoyed interacting with her watching her care for others in her troop. RIP sweet girl.”

“May her spirit be free to brachiate and forage in the forest trees in heaven,” said Lisa Gibson on Facebook.

Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.
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