Oliver, famed chimpanzee, dies
June 02, 2012San Antonio Express-News
By Michelle Casady
Oliver, the chimpanzee who spent much of his life as part of circus shows or in research labs, was found dead Saturday in his bedroom at Primarily Primates, the sanctuary where he spent his last 14 years.
He was at least 55 years old, while the average lifespan for a male chimp in captivity is 35.
Oliver’s girlfriend, Raisin, was by his side when caretakers found him, said Stephen Rene Tello, executive director of the sanctuary.
He came to Primarily Primates from a research lab in Pennsylvania in 1998. Tello said the lab didn’t perform any studies on him during his decade there because the staff could tell he was special: “He was just on a different level; he had very humanlike traits.”
For one, Oliver walked upright almost all the time. His unique qualities drew international attention, and he was dubbed the “Humanzee,” touted as a missing link.
Oliver was the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary in 2006, and the character Caesar in last year’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was said to be based on him.
“But for the last part of his life, he got to live in a safe haven — a nonexploitive, noncommercialized world where he was surrounded by people who love him and in companionship with others of his kind,” Tello said.
Shelly Ladd, enrichment coordinator at the sanctuary, said part of her job was to keep life interesting for the aging chimp, who was mostly blind, had no teeth and suffered from arthritis.
“He loved coconut sorbet — that got the biggest hoots and hollers,” she said. “But if he didn’t like something, he’d hand the bowl back to you,” like the time he tried sugar-free pistachio pudding.
Tello said a “dignified final ceremony” has been planned. Oliver’s body will be cremated, and the ashes spread over the sanctuary’s grounds. And Raisin will be reintroduced to some old friends.