RIP Cobby, Oldest Male Chimp in the U.S., a ‘Charismatic and Compassionate Leader’

RIP Cobby, Oldest Male Chimp in the U.S., a ‘Charismatic and Compassionate Leader’
Cobby playing with pumpkins during the San Francisco Zoo's 'Boo at the Zoo' Halloween celebration, in a photo taken in October 2019. (Photo: Russel A. Daniels, AP)

One of the world’s longest-lived chimpanzees has died. Officials at the San Francisco Zoo announced Sunday that Cobby the chimp passed away this weekend at the ripe old age of 63. Cobby was the oldest male chimp living in an accredited North American zoo.

According to zoo officials, Cobby died on Saturday. His exact cause of death is undetermined, but officials believe his age played a role; he was also recently ill, though no specifics were provided by the zoo. Cobby was raised by humans and had previously been a performing animal before he was adopted by the zoo in the 1960s. Since then, he was a beloved familiar face in San Francisco.

“Our hearts are broken with this devastating loss,” said Tanya M. Peterson, CEO and executive director of the San Francisco Zoological Society, in a statement. “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 favourite of visitors and staff, recognising so many of us. 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.”

In the wild, chimps remain one of the most endangered primates in the world and are thought to live between 20 and 30 years on average. But most chimps in captivity will live between 50 and 60, according to the San Francisco Zoo, making Cobby slightly above average. Similar to humans, though, female chimpanzees tend to live longer than males. Suzie, now 67 years old, is currently thought to be the oldest chimp in the world and lives at the Sunset Zoo in Kansas. The all-time record holder, Little Mama, died in 2017, somewhere between her late 70s and early 80s while living at the Lion Country Safari in Florida.

According to the 2020 documentary Cobby: The Other Side of Cute, Cobby was taken from his natural habitat in Africa as a baby and brought to the U.S., where he was trained to become the star of a short-lived children’s TV show called Cobby’s Hobbies, which saw only limited airtime in parts of Australia. Sadly, young chimps were commonly taken from their homes and families and forced to perform for humans, sometimes in dangerous living conditions. Cobby was given to the San Fransisco Zoo upon his “retirement” at the age of 7.

Aside from his human handlers, Cobby leaves behind members of his troop. According to the zoo, Cobby lived for four decades with two female companions, Minnie and Maggie, who are now both 53 years old, as well as four other chimps brought to the zoo between 2018 and 2019.

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