Big-city chimps no match for girl left behind

Harvey, left, and Fifi are still  just friends,  Toledo Zoo officials say, but the two are happy to be back together again.
Harvey, left, and Fifi are still just friends, Toledo Zoo officials say, but the two are happy to be back together again.

Harvey left his longtime girlfriend Fifi in Toledo for the big city and spent eight years hanging around the ladies in Baltimore.

Just five female chimpanzees and Harvey, the only male chimp. Harvey s job was to, um, become a daddy. But things just didn t work out at the Baltimore Zoo for Harvey, so he came back home to the Toledo Zoo.

Yesterday, he was reunited with Fifi.

It was anyone s guess what Fifi s reaction might be to her old friend, but Suzanne Husband, senior primate keeper at the zoo, said it s as though Harvey never left.

“I don t think they ve been more than six feet apart,” Ms. Husband said. “They re just happy to see each other.”

Chimpanzees are territorial, and a chimp normally reacts badly if a strange chimp enters its space. But Ms. Husband said Fifi and Harvey instantly recognized each other and began playing together and grooming each other.

“They ve been acting like they ve always been together and not apart for eight years,” she said.

Harvey is also busy greeting longtime zoo staffers and appears to recognize all his old friends, including Ms. Husband, who cared for Harvey before he left the Toledo Zoo.

“He remembers everyone,” she said. “It has been so cool to see.”

Now 39, Harvey came to the Toledo Zoo in 1971 and quickly became one of the zoo s most popular primates, especially with children. For 24 years, he and Fifi were companions, but in Ms. Husband s words, they ve always just been “buddies,” not mates.

In 1995, the zoo sent Harvey to Baltimore as part of the Species Survival Plan, an effort to breed zoo animals in captivity. After Elie died of old age in December, Fifi was left all alone.

She was fine during the day when she could watch children and demand to see their belly buttons - a gesture she makes by pointing. Ms. Husband and other zoo staffers could play with her and be sort of chimp surrogates. But at night, Fifi slept alone and often paced her cage.

To solve Fifi s loneliness, Ms. Husband began searching for a companion for the 43-year-old, who could live into her 60s. Then Ms. Husband heard about Harvey: The Baltimore Zoo had decided to try its luck with some new guys and offered to send Harvey back to Toledo.

Yesterday, Fifi and Harvey sat calmly together like an old couple resting on a park bench: no first-date jitters, no worries about starting a family, and no noisy teenagers to deal with.

Ms. Husband smiled as she watched the couple. “We re just going to let them grow old together,” he said.