Zoo provides new home for retiring chimp group

Julianne the chimpanzee walks across green grass

Chimps will join Chloe, Delilah and Jackson at zoo’s recently opened Primate Forest

Oregon Zoo guests can expect to see — and hear — a lot of activity over the coming months as the zoo welcomes five new chimpanzees to its recently opened Primate Forest habitat.

After a short settling-in period, the new chimps began exploring their outdoor areas for the first time last week. Eventually, care staff plans to introduce them to longtime zoo residents Chloe, Delilah and Jackson. Zoo guests can expect some excited vocalizing as everyone becomes acquainted. 

“My favorite thing about chimpanzees is that they cannot hide their emotions at all,” said Kate Gilmore, who oversees the zoo’s primate area. “If they’re excited about something, they’re excited at a 10. You will definitely hear about it.”

The chimps, four females and one male, came to Portland earlier this month from the Emory National Primate Research Center in Atlanta. Oregon Zoo keeper Colleen Reed traveled to the center earlier this spring to meet the chimps and learn about their personalities:

  • Daisey, 32, is small, but has attitude for days. She’s very smart with a stubborn streak and loves kiwi fruit and oranges. She’s active in engaging other chimps in grooming and play sessions. 
  • Her younger sister Julianne, 23, has a similarly stubborn and playfully mischievous personality. Julianne enjoys playtime with her sister as well as Pericles, the only male in the group, but also really likes a good nap. 
  • Missy, 28, is typically more reserved, but don’t be fooled by her passive expression: She’s always planning her next move. Missy is a fast learner, loves food and prefers one-on-one training sessions. 
  • Pericles, 20, is a typical young adult male — he likes to make noise and pursue the female chimps. He’s very playful and loves surprises.
  • Suwanee, 37, is the oldest of the group and likes to be the female in charge. She’s very smart, eager to learn and enjoys training. She likes to steal food from the other chimps, especially Pericles, and he will usually hand her whatever she wants.

The group came to the Oregon Zoo on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for chimpanzees, which are endangered and nearing extinction in many of their range countries. For the past 10 years, Emory has been working with the SSP to place chimps in settings that offer expert care, social housing and educational programs.

The zoo’s new Primate Forest habitat expands on improvements first helped along by Dr. Jane Goodall. Forty years ago, the zoo’s pioneering work with chimpanzees drew the attention of the famed conservationist, and she visited regularly, getting to know Chloe, Delilah and the other zoo chimps.

“Back in 1970s and ’80s, Dr. Goodall helped the zoo find funding for a big outdoor area to house all the chimps here,” Reed said. “And Primate Forest is a natural outgrowth of those early developments.”

The habitat features climbing structures, complex spaces for family groups and enhanced opportunities for enrichment and keeper interaction. The indoor “day room” features natural flooring and a pair of 26-foot-tall, floor-to-ceiling climbing structures. A simulated termite mound encourages natural foraging behavior, and five roof hatches allow keepers to scatter food from above.

Many of the habitat’s enriching features were made possible through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation, which is currently raising funds to advance zoo efforts in animal welfare, conservation and education. To learn more or to make a gift, call 503-505-5494 or email do-more@oregonzoo.org.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org

Kelsey Wallace | 503-220-5754 | kelsey.wallace@oregonzoo.org