One of our Chimpanzees, Sam, has died after a battle with heart disease. Sam was 38 and had been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in 2014.
While his symptoms could be treated in the short term, there is no cure and he was euthanised after his health recently deteriorated.
Our Zoo Keepers and Veterinary Team have been monitoring Sam’s health closely over the last 18 months, and we were able to get expert advice from cardiologists from Wellington Hospital and the Great Ape Heart Project. However, Sam’s symptoms were having more of an impact on his health and social wellbeing, and there was no further possibility of improving his overall welfare. Animal welfare is our top priority, so the decision to euthanise Sam was made in his best interests.
Everyone here at the Zoo will miss Sam’s calm presence, and his peaceful attitude among the rest of the Chimpanzee community.
Sam was born at Wellington Zoo in 1978, and has fathered a number of Chimpanzees. He was often known for his penchant for blankets or sacks.
“Sam was a sun-smart Chimpanzee, always first to nab a blanket to cover up from the sun – or to wrap up warm on cooler days,” said Senior Keeper Harmony Wallace. “He was easy to distinguish from the other Chimps with his large presence, and always being the first one up for food. Always a lover, never a fighter – it’s not surprising that he didn’t ever make a bid for the alpha spot, but his loss will be noted by the other Chimpanzees.”
Chimpanzees have a complex social structure, and while Sam was a low-key member of the community, it is likely that his passing will mean further changing of the dynamics for his community.
“Any change of dynamics in a community of Chimpanzees can shake up the social structure, so we will be observing how the Chimpanzees respond,” said Harmony. “One of the young adult Chimpanzees, Alexis, has made some recent challenges for the alpha spot, which is currently held by Marty. It could be that Sam’s passing could be the next catalyst for change.”
As heart disease is a major cause of mortality for great apes in human care, it is studied widely by the Great Ape Heart Project. Experts from the project were able to contribute advice to Sam’s care, and a post-mortem examination will take place to help contribute to their growing body of research.
Clinical Assistant Professor of Cardiology at the University of Georgia, Gregg Rapoport, is one of the cardiac advisors for the Great Ape Heart Project based at Zoo Atlanta. He says, “Good strides are being made to better understand the heart conditions affecting the great apes, but we certainly have a long way to go.”
“Sam was, unfortunately, an example of the limitations we still have in our ability to successfully treat severe heart disease when it occurs in the great apes under our care. This parallels the larger experience in other animals, including human beings, so many people are working hard to improve our strategies of detecting and managing heart disease and heart failure. It is critical to learn whatever we can from the heart disease we do see, since this will lead to greater success in the future.”
Chimpanzees are an endangered species due to loss of habitat and poaching for bush meat and pet trades. Wellington Zoo is a member of the Jane Goodall Institute – which works to protect Chimpanzees and other primates by supporting sanctuaries, reduce illegal animal trafficking, and education to protect endangered apes in the wild.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a slow progressive disease of the heart muscle, which reduces the heart’s ability to beat and contract.