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Published: Monday, 1/24/2011

Harvey feted as he turns 52 at Toledo Zoo

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Harvey, one of the oldest chimpanzees in the United States, celebrated his 52nd birthday Sunday at the Toledo Zoo with gift-wrapped presents, surprise guests, and a "cake" topped with Cheerios.

Although chimp life expectancy has increased significantly in recent decades with better nutrition and veterinary care, reaching 52 is still an extraordinary achievement, said Suzanne Husband, the zoo's lead keeper of primates.

Harvey is believed to be the third-oldest male chimp in an accredited U.S. zoo. He has been Toledo's sole chimp since the October, 2009, death of his longtime platonic girlfriend, Fifi, who lived to age 49.

For the birthday bash, zoo staff festooned Harvey's rock-lined den with multicolored streamers, congratulatory banners, and a half-dozen wrapped presents containing a soccer ball, stuffed animals, a hair brush, and an unbreakable mirror. They also prepared his favorite type of cake: strawberry yogurt mixed with oatmeal and sprinkled with Cheerios in the shape of "52."

More than two dozen visitors crowded against the display glass to watch Harvey's reaction. He initially seemed taken aback by the party decor. The chimp bounced around his den for a few moments, then proceeded to rip a sign saying "Harvey is 52 today," tearing just the part that announced his age.

Such vanity got chuckles from the audience. "He doesn't want to be 52!" laughed primate keeper Katie Kimball.

Harvey remains in good spirits and in relatively good health for his advanced age, according to zoo staff. The 5-foot-tall, 150-pound chimpanzee has been on heart medication since veterinarians last year discovered his heart arrhythmia, an irregular beat rhythm.

The beta blockers and ACE inhibitors seem to be working.

"He is still extraordinarily playful," Ms. Husband said.

The zoo is not exactly sure when or where Harvey was born, and can't rule out if he was once captured from the wild. Past Blade stories say his early years were spent as part of an entertainment act in the Detroit area.

Harvey arrived at the Toledo Zoo in 1971.

For years, he played a subservient role to an older male chimp named CoCo, who, according to zoo staff, occasionally ordered three female chimps to beat him up.

In 1995, Harvey left for the Baltimore Zoo in a failed mating attempt. He returned to Toledo in 2003 and was reunited with his old pal Fifi.

The two chimps behaved like an old married couple but never mated.

Fifi was the dominant one in the relationship, and showed jealously whenever staff and visitors tried to amuse Harvey or play with him.

"Fifi used to be mad at me when I would communicate with Harvey," said Judy Winhoven, 62, of West Toledo, one of Harvey's longtime fans.

Harvey is Ms. Winhoven's favorite animal at the zoo, and she visits him about once a month. She had a front-row seat at yesterday's festivities.

"He's always happy, he's always curious," Ms. Winhoven said. "He's just a very neat chimp."

Contact JC Reindl at: jcreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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