Fauna Foundation Chimpanzee Dolly

A Mother’s Day Tale at the Zoo (Mammas Don’t Let your Babies Grow Up to be Zookeepers)

We have a sanctuary resident at Fauna, Dolly, who came from Parc Safari Zoo. We discovered some of her history by tracing her in the Chimpanzee SSP. The SSP is “a chronology of the population of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in North American zoological parks” and is maintained by the American Zoological Association. The family trees of many chimpanzees are on this list; at least those who are traded or sold with transparency. Dolly is #345. She was born in Mesquite Texas. She and three other chimpanzees moved to Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Quebec in 1973.

Zoo Babies

In 1979 Dolly had a son Donnie II. When he was 10 months old he was shipped to the Detroit Zoo. When he was four he was shipped to the Tempe Zoo. When he was nine he was shipped back to the Detroit Zoo. When he was 21 he was shipped to John Ball Zoo where he lives today. He recently made it into the news for throwing feces at a visitor. Donnie II didn’t take this journey alone.

Dolly wasn’t the only mother at Parc Safari. When Donnie was born there were two other babies born within months of him. It must have been a busy time at Parc Safari with three infant chimpanzees. We don’t know if these infants were “pulled” from their mothers and raised by zoo keepers or if they remained with their mothers until they left, but often babies are pulled from mothers for various reasons. Koko, the gorilla who signs, was with her mother at the San Francisco Zoo in her early months and then contracted shigella, becoming quite ill. She was pulled from her mother for treatment and never returned. Instead she joined Francine Patterson in a lifelong sign language project. It is chronicled in a documentary, Koko The Gorilla Who Talks. On the day Donnie II was shipped out, the other two infants Jo Mendi and Catherine went with him.


Dolly enjoying a fresh carrot. Photo © NJ Wight

The Undocumented Suffering at a Zoo

Parents never recover from the loss of a child. Imagine the heavy cloud of sadness when those babies left their mother’s arms. We don’t know how many babies at Hemmingford didn’t make into the SSP, so we don’t know how much suffering there was. Daisy does not appear on the SSP but she was born and died at Parc Safari. Undocumented babies liker her could have been sold casually, perhaps ending up at other zoos in Quebec, such as St. Felicien where Toby lived. Toby doesn’t appear on the SSP, so we don’t know how he, or any of his family members got there. While this is a tale about a mother’s loss, the children’s loss and fear must also be remembered. In the human realm the joy of families, the bonds between mothers and babies, and the sadness when this is disrupted so tugs at our hearts that it drives billions of dollars in donations to humanitarian organizations.

Yet we should pause to consider this is standard practice in the zoo industry. Zoos continue to breed chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos in the name of conservation, but the reality is that babies bring more visitors to zoos. Those visitors bring money into the zoo bank accounts. When those babies grow up, off they go to make more babies at other zoos. This cycle continues today.
So when we think about the joy of our mothers, our babies, our families, we should remember Dolly and the moment she lost hers and what we can do to end this horrific practice.


Dolly at Fauna Foundation in 2017. Photo © NJ Wight

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The Caregiving & Support Team at Fauna

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