Chimpanzee Mourning

Dorothy’s family gathers to see her body one last time, Photo: IDA-Africa

Last week, I heard the news that Dorothy, from IDA-Africa’s chimpanzee sanctuary in Cameroon, passed away.  Dorothy was one of the first chimpanzees rescued by Dr. Sheri Speede.  I remember reading a story about Dorothy and Nama, two chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade, who spent decades chained to the same spot in an amusement park “taught to drink beer and smoke cigarettes for human amusement.”

Dorothy Before Rescue, Photo: IDA-Africa

As one would imagine, this life in captivity took a tremendous toll on Dorothy, but she would later enjoy the simple pleasures of sanctuary. While Dorothy was never able to climb trees, she did spend much time with the young ones on the ground.  And became the adopted mother of a orphaned male named Bouboule.


Dorothy and Bouboule, Photo: IDA-Africa

In their time together at the amusement park, Nama and Dorothy were in sight of each other but out of reach.  In sanctuary, they would be able to nurture this friendship.


Nama grooming Dorothy, Photo: IDA-Africa

I was saddened to learn the news about Dorothy, as her and Nama’s story was one that inspired me to volunteer in Cameroon.  I thought about how her passing impacted all those who cared for her, especially her chimpanzee family.  Dr. Sheri Speede wrote a moving tribute to her dear friend. This is her account of the chimpanzees in mourning.

Nama sat beside Dorothy in death, touching her gently and not wanting to leave her side. Her son Bouboule, like most of the other chimpanzees, grieved openly. Alpha male Jacky fell on his back and screamed in distress, until he finally accepted the comfort of some of the others.

We had a funeral service for Dorothy and many people from the villages, including the high chief of our seven villages, came to pay their respects. No one seemed to wonder for a second whether a funeral service was appropriate for a chimpanzee. They walked to the camp from their villages after learning of Dorothy’s death, without being invited.

We buried Dorothy beside the enclosure where she lived and beside the tomb of her friend Becky. All the chimpanzees in her family came to watch and mourn with us. When we brought her to the grave site, they asked to see her again, so I took her body close for them to see her a final time. None of them left until the burial was finished.


~ by sangamithra on September 28, 2008.

2 Responses to “Chimpanzee Mourning”

  1. It’s sweet and sad. I’m just so glad that Dorothy was able to spend the rest of her days in safety, happiness and with family who loved her.

  2. What a wonderful tribute to her.

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