- Kristina Webb Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A Palm Beach County institution has died.
Little Mama, the oldest living chimpanzee on record, passed away Tuesday at Lion Country Safari, the park said Tuesday. She was in her late 70s.
The chimp, a favorite of the safari park’s staff and visitors, died surrounded by her family group of eight other chimpanzees and some of the park’s employees. The park’s veterinarians believe the cause of her death was kidney failure. A necropsy will be performed.
“She held a special place in the heart of anyone who ever had the privilege to meet her,” said Tina Cloutier Barbour, primate curator at Lion Country Safari. “In all ways, Mama was special. It soothes me to think that she will be with us forever, in our hearts and memories.”
Little Mama was born in Africa around 1938 and came to Lion Country Safari in 1967 after spending time as a pet and possibly as a performer in the Ice Capades. Jane Goodall, the renowned primatologist, spent time with Little Mama in 1972 and estimated her age.
With nearly 1,100 animals, Lion Country Safari said its annual birthday celebration for Little Mama — held each Valentine’s Day — was by far the largest. “She was petite in stature, snuggled under blankets on cool mornings, always carried around a stuffed animal and was an amazing ambassador for her species,” the park said.
A 2012 Palm Beach Post profile of the primate described her as feisty and smart, clapping her hands impatiently for breakfast each morning and soaking up attention from Lion Country’s staff. One keeper described her as “the funny aunt” of the park’s chimps. She loved the live-action version of “The Jungle Book.”
Goodall returned to visit Little Mama in 2015. The chimp greeted Goodall as an old friend: Little Mama made “smoochy noises” and patted Goodall’s hair.