"Cobby," the 63-year-old chimpanzee at the SF Zoo — who was adored by generations of visitors — passed away on June 5, likely due to a combination of his old age and having suffered from an illness earlier in the year.
If you've ever seen chimpanzees IRL, or even just Googled an image of their hands, it leaves little doubt that the species truly is our closest-living relative on this space rock. Saturday, what's believed to be now the longest-living chimpanzee in any accredited zoological facility in North America passed away at the SF Zoo, leaving an unfillable void in his troop — and for those who adored him.
We are heartbroken to share the sad news of the passing of our beloved Cobby, 63-year-old male chimpanzee. Cobby, a gentle soul, brought a calming presence to our troop of seven and was a protective companion to Minnie and Maggie, who he lived with for 42 years. pic.twitter.com/WLFoJk9e1u— San Francisco Zoo (@sfzoo) June 6, 2021
“Our hearts are broken with this devastating loss,” said Tanya M. Peterson, CEO and Executive Director of San Francisco Zoological Society, in a press release. “Cobby was both a charismatic and compassionate leader of our chimpanzee troop. For so many years, he was a protective companion, demonstrating patience and resiliency. "
Apes are social species, just like us. (Fun fact: It's theorized that chimpanzees gave up more complex verbal language in favor of better short term memory; both evolutionary adaptations exist in the same part of the brain — one reason why chimpanzees have a far superior recollection in this capacity, but why we humans have a richer spoken lexicon.) With Cobby’s passing, his companions of more than 42 years, 52-year-old females Minnie and Maggie, are both reeling from absence.
It's a feeling of mourning shared among the bipeds who cared and doted over him, as well.
"He also was a favorite of visitors and staff, recognizing so many of us," Peterson added. "He was one of the first animals whom I personally knew as Director. His death will be felt deeply by our staff, many of whom cared for him for decades.”
Cobby — who enjoyed resting on the various platforms, snacking on his favorite foods, and even as a senior, would climb up to the highest points in his shared enclosure to mingle with other members of his troop — leaves behind no living offspring. Nevertheless: According to staff, Cobby's nickname amongst the cohort was “Papa.”
Cobby was a major part of the #SFZoo family. He touched so many lives, and staff and visitors alike have so many memories of him. It was a privilege to know him. We will miss you dearly, Cobby!— San Francisco Zoo (@sfzoo) June 6, 2021
If you have memories of Cobby, please share them in the comments.
“Cobby was part of San Francisco,” waxes Peterson in closing. “He touched so many lives, and people have so many memories of him. He is irreplaceable, and our hearts are broken. We will all miss seeing his handsome grey beard watching over us from the top platform of the yard.”
If that "handsome grey beard" looks familiar, Cobby was pictured in this piece we published last summer on Bay Area zoos amd the pandemic.
The IUCN/World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species describes each of the species of African great apes – chimpanzees, gorillas, and bonobos – as either endangered or critically engaged. Alas, we're on the precipice of a world without our closest-living relatives, should we continue to consume (and destroy) our planet’s resources at this current rate.
Image: Courtesy of San Francisco Zoo