PASA Mourns Loss of Chimpanzee Icon Gregoire
Gregoire, an adult male chimpanzee whose resilience allowed him to survive more than 40 years of solitary display at an African zoo before finding companionship and comfort at a sanctuary, died in his sleep December 17 at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in Congo.
Gregoire was the oldest known chimpanzee in Africa and was a beloved figure in the Republic of Congo. Captured as an infant from the forests, he became a hero to the Congolese, first as a mainstay at the Brazzaville Zoo, and later when he was evacuated to Tchimpounga via airlift during the 1997 civil war.
Gregoire will be buried at Tchimpounga, which is a charter member of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA).
“Gregoire symbolizes the long and difficult arc many primates experience in Africa,” said Doug Cress, executive director of PASA. “He was a victim of the bushmeat crisis long before it was an international cause, and his ability to endure so many years alone at the Brazzaville Zoo is a testament to his strength. PASA sanctuaries are committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and – when possible – reintroduction of primates back into the wild, and Gregoire’s odyssey serves as an inspiration.”
Gregoire received a great deal of media coverage in the latter stages of his life, including documentaries on BBC and Animal Planet and the cover photo of National Geographic.
At Tchimpounga, Gregoire spent his final years in a large indoor-outdoor enclosure in the company of other chimpanzees. But that was a very different animal from the one Dr. Jane Goodall first encountered in Brazzaville in 1990.
“I gazed at this strange being, alone in his bleak cement-floored cage,” she once said. “His pale, almost hairless skin was stretched tightly over his emaciated body so that every bone could be seen. His eyes were dull as he reached out with a thin, bony hand for a proffered morsel of food. Was this really a chimpanzee?”
The Jane Goodall Institiute (JGI) and the John Aspinall Foundation jointly arranged Gregoire’s transfer to Tchimpounga, a large chimpanzee sanctuary near the coastal Congo city of Pointe Noire. Tchimpounga is operated by JGI.
JGI issued a statement that read, in part: “Gregoire was a beloved personality…We'll miss him, but we are so happy to have been able to help him find companionship and contentment in his twilight years.”