Little Mama, the Loxahatchee park’s oldest chimpanzee, was, by all accounts, thrilled to see the primatologist she first met in 1972.
Their reunion “was just as cute as you could imagine,” said Terry Wolf, Lion Country’s longtime wildlife director. “Mama focused on her immediately, made eye-to-eye contact with her, and made ‘come closer’ motions with her fingers and kissing sounds with her mouth.
“She just wanted to touch Jane’s hair and face and hands.”
The few Lion Country staff members who witnessed the scene in the chimps’ night house, some of whom were moved to tears, were certain Little Mama remembered Goodall.
Wolf hedged his bets: “I know Little Mama is very observant about people. Whether she recognizes Jane, I couldn’t say. She doesn’t share all her secrets with me.”
Wolf has known Little Mama since 1970. A diminuitive-for-a-chimp 90 pounds, she turned 77 on Valentine’s Day, making her among the oldest chimps in captivity in the United States, according to the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a program administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
That makes her a contemporary of Goodall, who celebrates her 81st birthday on April 3, 2015.
Since Goodall’s first visit to Lion Country in 1972, she’s toured the park roughly 20 times. On Wednesday, she admired the park’s giraffe herd and saw the new baby rhino, Blossom, and her mom, Bloom. But Little Mama was the chief reason for a special house call squeezed into a very busy schedule.
Still the leading spokesperson for the dire plight of chimpanzees, Goodall is constantly on-the-go as chief ambassador of the Jane Goodall Institute.
On Thursday morning, she spoke to students and parents at Palm Beach Day Academy about her love of animals as a child (brought to the printed page by Mutts’ Patrick McDonnell in this children’s book), the intelligence of all animals and how we need to work together to protect the planet, said Linda Lane Soper, whose two children attend the school.
Goodall’s speech, even her presence, was intensely moving, said Soper, a West Palm Beach resident.
“She has this quiet, humbling way about her that is something unlike any human I have ever met. And this must be why she can communicate so well with our primate cousins.”
She’s equally good with people, Wolf said.
“She speaks to everyone at the same level, whether they’re a doctor of veterinary medicine or they’re a keeper who’s only been working here a week.”
And she’s particularly inspiring to women, Wolf said. “She’s not a movie star, she’s not a fashion model, she’s not a Kardashian. She’s just plain Jane, down to earth, and she’ll fight to the death for the chimps. What’s not to love?”
After almost half an hour with Little Mama, Goodall said goodbye and walked away from the chimp’s cage.
Mama cried for her friend to retrace her steps, Wolf said. “She knows how to pull those strings.
“Jane came right back.”
Terry Wolf on Little Mama: “She is little in every way. But her resilience, and the friendship she shows to the other chimps, has been inspiring.”