Zoo mourns its oldest resident as Ricky the chimpanzee dies at 50

Ricky celebrates his 50th birthday at the zoo last September
Ricky celebrates his 50th birthday at the zoo last September
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Visitors have been going ape over his antics since the swinging Sixties.

But Edinburgh Zoo’s oldest resident, Ricky the chimpanzee, has died.

The popular primate, who was aged around 50, died in his sleep following an examination by vets.

Ricky’s death is understood to have devastated staff, with whom he was a firm favourite.

The former ship mascot arrived at the city attraction in February 1963 and has been delighting visitors ever since.

While no records exist of his exact age, keepers estimated he had reached his 50th in September, making him the zoo’s oldest resident.

To mark his half century, Ricky was showered with treats including a gigantic peanut butter flavoured banana.

A zoo spokesman said: “Staff at the zoo will be devastated, they had an incredible bond with him, but 50 years old is a great age for a chimp.

“Ricky had been with the zoo since around the age of four and was an integral member of the troop.

“He was particularly good with the younger chimps.”

Over the past month, keepers became concerned when Ricky began losing weight and was bullied by the other chimps.

Zoo vet Romain Pizzi said that following an examination, he was found to have advanced heart disease.

“It was a bit of a shock when we found out because chimps are very good at hiding these things. We were all saddened by it.”

During his time at the zoo Ricky took part in scientific studies designed to help understand the language of chimpanzees.

He was born in the wild, but was reportedly orphaned when his parents were killed for bush meat in west Africa. He was captured and, still an infant, sold into the pet trade.

He then spent his formative years being raised by humans on a merchant naval ship, where he served as a mascot.

At the age of five, however, he became too big and strong for his human handlers to cope with, and was rehomed at Edinburgh Zoo.

Because of his early contact with people, Ricky always exhibited human traits and has never been fully accepted by the other chimps.

He was never the dominant male and apparently had little time for the business of chimp politics, instead preferring to watch out for and play with the youngsters of the group.

The zoo’s profile said: “He is a gentle, kindly chimp who can be easily upset, but the group is immensely fond of him, and look out for him.”

Keepers said his lovable and gentle personality helped him find his place in the chimpanzee group.

After moving into the purpose-built Budongo Trail in 2008, Ricky could often be seen perched at the highest point, looking out on a panoramic view of the Capital.

In happier news for the zoo, it has been confirmed that the chances of Tian Tian and Yang Guang conceiving are not likely to be hampered by their recent ill-health.

The pandas were both struck down with a bout of colic but returned to public view at Edinburgh Zoo yesterday.

Romain Pizzi, said: “I am delighted to advise that both Tian Tian and Yang Guang are back on show.

“Colic is not uncommon in giant pandas and is not a great cause for concern.”

vraimes@edinburghnews.com