Cobby, the oldest male chimpanzee in the US, dies at 63 — rest in peace

It’s always a sad day at a zoo when an animal passes away, but today the San Francisco Zoo is mourning the loss of a very special animal: Cobby, the oldest male chimpanzee in the United States, has died at 63.

A resident of the zoo for decades, Cobby was beloved by zookeepers and visitors, and was a respected elder among the primate population. The zoo described him as a “gentle soul” and a “calming presence” to the troop.

“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 resilency. He also was a favorite of visitors and staff, recognizing so many of us.”

Cobby has been a staple of the zoo for decades, familiar to generations of animal lovers since he arrived in the mid 1960s. He had previously been a performing chimp raised by humans.

His new life at the zoo proved to be a happier one. He had two female companions named Minnie and Maggie, who were by his side for over 40 years.

“Cobby enjoyed resting on the various platforms, snacking on his favorite foods, and even as a senior, climbing up high to hang out with his favorite girl Minnie, and he loved interacting with his caregivers,” the zoo wrote.

The zoo described him as having a “larger than life presence,” and that he was a “fan favorite beloved by all.”

As Cobby got older, he spouted distinct gray beard, and was nicknamed “Papa.” And in his old age, Cobby became an elder leader and role model among the primates.

That role was especially important in recent years, as the zoo opened their Great Ape Passage in 2019, a habitat designed for geriatric animals to integrate with younger troop members.

The zoo described the “heartwarming story of acceptance and change” in which Cobby helped the zoo’s seven new chimps adjust to their habitat. “Cobby [was] the respected elder who was able to bring together this newly formed group,” the zoo wrote in their press release.

Cobby passed away on June 5. The exact cause of death has not been determined, but he had been ill, and his old age was likely a factor. At 63, he was past the life expectancy for a male chimpanzee.

His passing will be especially hard on his longtime mates Maggie and Minnie, and is also difficult for the zookeepers who have cared for him for so long.

“He was one of the first animals whom I personally knew as Director,” Tanya M. Peterson said. “His death will be felt deeply by our staff, many of whom cared for him for decades.”

Don't forget to stop by and say hi to 57-year-old Cobby and the girls (both 46) next time you're at the Zoo. Photo by May Woon

Posted by San Francisco Zoo on Sunday, March 1, 2015

And Cobby will also be missed by the generations of visitors to the San Francisco zoo who knew and loved him.

“Cobby was part of San Francisco,” Peterson said. “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.”

Rest in peace, Cobby. We’re glad your long life was full of joy, and we know you made a big impact on generations of fans.

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