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Harvey the chimp dies at 52

Old age suspected; primate exceeded his life expectancy

Harvey-the-chimp-dies-at-52

Harvey, shown celebrating his 50th birthday in January, 2009, outlived the median life expectancy of a male chimpanzee, which is 26.

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For the last few days, Harvey -- the last surviving chimpanzee at the Toledo Zoo -- had been running zoo staff ragged wanting to play.

The 52-year-old chimp was so full of energy that Suzanne Husband, the zoo's lead keeper of primates, immediately knew something was wrong when Harvey wasn't waiting to greet her Wednesday morning.

"I did my morning check and he usually is at the glass to meet me and greet me, and he wasn't there, which made me worry," Ms. Husband said. "He has a nest area off exhibit. That's where he slept that night and he just had not gotten up."

Harvey apparently had died in his sleep, most likely from natural causes because of his advanced age, zoo officials said.

"He really had a ball yesterday," Ms. Husband said. "If I can have solace, that's what it is. He definitely had a good life and he was happy right up until yesterday. He passed away in his sleep kind of the way I hope I go."

As required by law, a full necropsy was to be conducted by the zoo's veterinary staff. Other than an irregular heartbeat for which he took medication, Harvey had been healthy and active, living far longer than the average chimp.

The median life expectancy is about 26 for male chimps and 35 for females, according to information from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Harvey, who came to the zoo in 1971 from Detroit, was believed to be the third oldest chimpanzee in any accredited zoo in the United States.

He outlived all of the chimps who arrived at the zoo in the 1970s, including his longtime companion Fifi, who also outlived the statistics, dying in 2009 at the age of 49. Just like a little old man, Ms. Husband said, Harvey had been shrinking in recent years and weighed just under 100 pounds when he died.

Ms. Husband said Fifi and Harvey had been good friends but never mated. Though Harvey did not become a father, she said he would've been a good one. He spent eight years at the Baltimore Zoo -- from 1995 to 2003 -- as part of the Species Survival Plan, an effort to breed zoo animals in captivity. He never mated with the female chimps there but became a surrogate father to their babies, Ms. Husband said.

"He played with them. He would baby-sit," she said. "One little one would crawl off mom and onto him."

Ms. Husband said that while chimpanzees are usually very hyper and very territorial, Harvey was laid back and got along well with other chimps as well as zoo staff and the public. He was a favorite of zoo-goers. Many asked for him by name, and even Harvey came to recognize his regular visitors.

"He was so phenomenal," she said. "We had to respect his space, but he was extraordinarily gentle and calm for a chimpanzee. He was just a good guy -- very laid back, and he liked to interact with people as much as he did chimps."

Harvey enjoyed painting, and one of his works of art was auctioned off in 2008 to benefit the zoo's wildlife conservation efforts.

"He was one of the few who actually enjoyed painting and didn't eat it," Ms. Husband said with a laugh.

Zoo spokesman Andi Norman recalled walking over to the Great Ape building one day last winter, pulling out her cell phone, and showing Harvey a video of his birthday party. He watched and stayed interested as she flipped through other pictures. Before long, Ms. Norman said, he was making a sliding motion with his hand when he wanted to see a new photo.

"I thought, 'Harvey, you could probably use this phone better than I can,' " she said, adding, "He was special not only to employees but to visitors too."

The zoo's Facebook page was flooded with condolences and memories after news of his death was posted yesterday afternoon.

"We just saw him [in] June. He was full of personality," Jennifer Yuhaz wrote.

Troy Michael Davenport wrote, "Think of all the children that he made smile. Makes me sad."

Connie Kelly wrote that she visited the zoo in June, "and Harvey was quite the character. He posed for me as I took picture after picture of him. I will cherish these pics forever and my heart goes out to the zoo staff and everyone who loved visiting him as I did."

Lori Wells offered condolences to the zoo, especially Harvey's handlers.

"RIP Harvey, may your days be filled with sunshine, large trees, and bananas now!" she wrote.

Renee Alyssa Hannah Johnston wrote, "Aww! That is so sad! :( He's in the jungle in the sky now!"

Matt Gigantus Strawbridge wrote, "I'm positive that he's gone to the Rainbow Bridge."

Blade staff writer Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.

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