Fauna's Matriarch Sue Ellen

Fauna’s Matriarch Turns 52

Sue Ellen, Fauna’s matriarch, turns 52 today! Caregivers made elaborate enrichments for her to celebrate the day but at this ripe old age, Sue Ellen is happy just to spend quiet time with her friend Dolly. Both are in their senior years and the caregivers work hard to accommodate their special needs. Sue Ellen has had a long, hard life before reaching Fauna.

Sue Ellen’s Early Years

Sue Ellen, Fauna’s matriarch, was in the second group of chimpanzees to arrive at Fauna Foundation from the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP). On October 21, 1997, at the age of 30, Sue Ellen, along with her friends Pepper, Billy Jo, Pablo, and Donna Rae, moved into her forever home in the Chimphouse where she continues to live as matriarch, and second oldest chimpanzee.

Sue Ellen, along with her friend Billy Jo, spent the first 15 years of her life in the entertainment industry. As she grew older, she had her teeth knocked out with a crowbar to prevent her from biting. When she was no longer suitable for entertainment work, Sue and Billy Jo were sold to LEMSIP and became a research subject.

At LEMSIP, Sue Ellen was known as CH-440 and was used extensively in HIV studies where researchers injected the virus into multiple tissue and membrane sites. She endured 40 liver biopsies, 3 rectal biopsies and 4 lymph node biopsies during her captive years in the lab. Her HIV tests remained inconclusive.



Old friends and New Friends

During her many years at Fauna, Sue Ellen has had great chimpanzee friends. However, as she has aged, she has also known the painful loss of some of these friends. Pablo, Donna Rae, Billy Jo and Pepper were all close companions of Sue’s and with each loss she showed tremendous strength, adapting and finding her way. In recent years Tatu and Loulis, Jethro and Dolly have all become dear friends of Fauna’s matriarch.

As we previously reported in An Update on Sue Ellen’s Health, she lost the use of her legs towards the end of last year. While this has posed some challenges, she has adapted very well and is quite mobile using her arms. Her enclosures feature a series of ropes and belts that she can use to move around and she can access a tunnel to go outside for fresh air and sunshine. She spends lots of time visiting with her caregivers, sharing meals and having grooming sessions. These days she is happy spending quiet time with her friend Dolly, who is close to her age and who also requires additional care as an elder chimpanzee.

The Life of a Senior Chimpanzee

At the age of 52, Sue Ellen and Dolly are both in their senior years and the caregivers work hard to accommodate their special needs. Sue Ellen’s bed must be changed twice per day, which greatly increases time for care. We assess her quality of life through detailed hourly records. Sue Ellen and Dolly enjoy all the fresh fruits and veggies they receive. Eating is a great pleasure for them and the caregivers always ensure they have lots of foods to choose from. They enjoy their night nests and will make use of every blanket offered. Just like their senior human cousins, they enjoy taking lots of naps. Sue Ellen particularly likes to hide underneath a cozy blanket with just her little face peeking out. Caregivers make elaborate enrichment which Sue Ellen loves to utilize.


Sue Ellen loves taking naps!


Tatu, Maya and Loulis are now all in their forties and are also considered geriatric chimpanzees. Our mission is to ensure life’s transitions are as easy as possible for them, adjusting and adapting their diets, medical care routines and enclosures to meet their individual needs. Our caregiving staff are attentive and quick to respond to their changing needs. Chance and Rachel are in their late thirties and having endured their early years at LEMSIP, they have lasting emotional and physical scars that will follow them into their later years.


Rachel enjoying time on the islands.


Thank you!

We could not provide the care we do without the generous support of our extended Fauna family. Not only do your donations help provide the care that Sue Ellen and her chimpanzee family deserve, but your ongoing support sends a powerful message to our caregiving staff, helping to provide them the strength and courage to do the compassionate work they do, day in and day out.

With the challenges we know our aging population will bring, we need you now more than ever. Thank you.


All photos © NJ Wight