On the sad loss of Little Mama, one of the oldest chimpanzees in the world.
I am really saddened to hear that Little Mama is no longer with us. She was one of the very first chimpanzees I met in America when I was invited to visit Lion Country Safaris sometime in the 1960s. Immediately I noticed this female who always loved to sit with a burlap bag over her head, looking just like a little old woman with a shawl.
I visited many times over the years, pleased by the many improvements that were made to the chimpanzee islands and always spent time watching Little Mama. She was very special. I must have estimated her age wrongly back then – because my guess then would mean that she died at around 80 years, and I do not think that possible. But she must have been at least 70.
I heard about her death from Tina Cloutier Barbour who told me that she had been getting weaker for several weeks – just showing her age. All the staff loved Little Mama. She was given extra treats, the things she wanted before she suddenly got worse. And that was the beginning of the end. Like my beloved Flo at Gombe it seemed that she just gave up. Old people often do.
I am so glad I made time to visit Lion Country last year – primarily to pay one of my infrequent visits to Little Mama. She was such a special chimpanzee – and all the staff loved her. she was surrounded by friends at the end, and both her human and her chimpanzee family gathered to say goodbye. The chimpanzees are grieving, Tina tells me, perhaps even more than the humans.
Tina tells me they have received an incredible “outpouring of support and condolences —really a testament to her legacy of love and compassion” Tina wrote. And went on to say “To know her, even for a short while, was to love her. She genuinely touched so, so many lives. We all consider ourselves absolutely privileged to have had the honor to know, love, and care for her. She will be immensely missed…the park just isn’t the same without her her”‘
I have to say that it was hard to see the words, they were blurred with tears. She has been buried in a prominent place, and a mango tree planted in her honor. Mangoes were her favorite fruit. How often I watched her as she enjoyed one, with contented grunts.
Little Mama, where you have gone there will be mango trees in a beautiful forest that is laden with all the other things you love to eat and, I am sure, a reunion with all those chimpanzees who went on before you, friends whose lives you enriched.
My condolences and love to all the other chimpanzees I have known over the years, and to all the humans who loved and cared for this wonderful old lady.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.