Mama’s Last Hug


Mama, 59 years old and at the time the oldest chimpanzee and matriarch of the famous chimpanzee colony of the Royal Burgers Zoo in Arnhem, Netherlands, was gravely ill.  Jan van Hooff (emeritus professor behavioural biology at Utrecht University and co-founder of the Burgers colony) who had known Mama since 1972, visited her in the week before she died of old age. It took a while before she became aware of DR. van Hooff’s presence. Her reaction was clear.

While this event occurred several years ago, I was unaware of it until it just now popped up in my feed. I shared because this video demonstrates clearly that emotions we often call ‘human emotions’ are shared by animals, and clearly by our relatives, chimpanzees. This video also demonstrates the impact of human/animal bond. At this point Mama was not responsive to keepers or other chimpanzees in her family, but as you can see clearly responds to her old friend who she hadn’t seen in several years. Mama died about a week after this video.

Mama played an important social role in the colony. This has been described in Chimpanzee Politics, authored by primatologist Frans de Waal, who studied the colony since 1974.