6 Apr 2016

Wellington Zoo chimp dies aged 38

2:32 pm on 6 April 2016

A chimpanzee at Wellington Zoo has died after a battle with heart disease.

Sam the chimpanzee

Sam the chimpanzee Photo: Wellington Zoo

The 38-year-old male Chimp, Sam, was born at Wellington Zoo in 1978 and fathered a number of chimpanzees.

Senior keeper Harmony Wallace said Sam was diagnosed with an incurable heart disease four years ago and was euthanised after his health recently deteriorated.

Ms Wallace said Sam was a sun-smart chimpanzee and was always first to nab a blanket to cover up from the sun.

"He was easy to distinguish from the other chimps with his large presence, and always being the first one up for food. Always a lover, never a fighter - it's not surprising that he didn't ever make a bid for the alpha spot, but his loss will be noted by the other chimpanzees."

She said heart disease was a major cause of mortality for great apes in human care and was studied widely by the international group, the Great Ape Heart Project.

Clinical assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Georgia, Gregg Rapoport, is one of the cardiac advisors for the Great Ape Heart Project based at Zoo Atlanta.

He said good strides were being made to better understand the heart conditions affecting the great apes, but there was still a long way to go.

"Sam was, unfortunately, an example of the limitations we still have in our ability to successfully treat severe heart disease when it occurs in the great apes under our care.

"This parallels the larger experience in other animals, including human beings, so many people are working hard to improve our strategies of detecting and managing heart disease and heart failure."

Ms Wallace said a post-mortem examination would take place, to contribute to the group's research.

Wellington Zoo is home to 11 chimpanzees, which is one of the largest chimpanzee communities in Australasia.