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A Dying Chimp Embraces Her Old Friend and Refuses to Let Go

Mama seemed to have all but given up on this world.

At 59, the chimpanzee was suffering a long, achingly slow illness, at the Royal Burgers Zoo in the Netherlands.

She wasn’t so much raging against the dying of the light so much as embracing it. It was April 2016 and the chimp, long an icon at the zoo, was nudging away every spoonful of food offered to her. Instead, she curled up into a ball, seemingly her own source of comfort at the end of a long and storied life.

That is, until another kind of light appeared. Jan van Hooff paid her a bedside visit. The Dutch biologist met Mama back in 1972 and, over the decades, they had formed a potent bond.

A video the professor posted on YouTube shows Mama taking a moment to recognize her old friend. And then comes a screech of joy.

The patient, who had shrugged off every entreaty from her caregivers, outstretches her arms. She grins and howls and presses the man tightly against her.

“Her reaction was extremely emotional and heart-breaking,” van Hooff notes in the introduction to the video.

Of course, animals — from whales and dolphins to apes to octopuses — have long shown that they make emotional connections as at least as powerfully as humans do.

But there was something else in this reunion: a kind of reminiscing between two friends who hadn’t seen each in a long time.

Maybe it was just the light that Mama needed to see at the end of her life. She died a week after her friend’s visit.

This is the way we should all end — not with a whimper, but with a howl of joy. And memories of love.