An Ailing 59 Year Old Chimpanzee Embraces Her Beloved Caretaker After Recognizing His Voice

In 2016, an ailing 59 year old chimpanzee named Mama was refusing food and preparing to die when her beloved caretaker Jan van Hooff came to visit. Mama, who was matriarch the chimpanzee colony of the Royal Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, Netherlands, had known van Hooff since the formation of the colony in 1972.

While it took the elderly primate a few minutes to recognize van Hooff, however, once she did, she reached out to embrace her old friend with a big smile. This heartbreakingly beautiful effort took a great deal of energy, but Mama held onto van Hooff for as long as she could. Mama passed away one week later.

Jan van Hooff (emeritus professor behavioural biology at Utrecht University and co-founder of the Burgers colony) who has known Mama since 1972, visited her in the week before she died of old age in April 2016. It took a while before she became aware of Jan’s presence. Her reaction was extremely emotional and heart-breaking. Mama played an important social role in the colony. This has been described in “Chimpanzee Politics” by Frans de Waal, who studied the colony since 1974.