Jimmie the chimpanzee, a fixture of the Kansas City Zoo for 40 years, died Wednesday morning in the animals’ holding barn.
Generations of Kansas Citians grew up with Jimmie, who in recent years spent much of his outdoor time near the glass of the chimpanzee exhibit watching people watch him. He was distinctive because of pink coloring around his mouth and his gray hair.
Randy Wisthoff, zoo director, said Jimmie began his day as usual and took his heart medications.
“He was fine and alert earlier in the morning, and at some point he went over and laid down, and that was it,” Wisthoff said.
The zoo will do a necropsy to determine the cause of death.
About 41, Jimmie was the old male of the zoo’s 16-member chimpanzee troop, which was the largest in the United States. Kansas City and the Los Angeles Zoo now each have 15 chimpanzees.
Jimmie had sired 19 offspring since coming to the Kansas City Zoo in 1968 after being captured in Liberia. Among his descendants is a female chimp born one year ago next Monday.
The zoo planned a celebration of that chimp’s first birthday this weekend but now is also setting up a memorial fund in Jimmie’s name to benefit chimpanzee conservation efforts in Africa.
Jan Armstrong, who took care of infant animals at the zoo when Jimmie came here, said he was brought in as part of a “Dr. Dolittle” promotional event for Halls on the Country Club Plaza and then placed with the zoo. Armstrong recalled taking Jimmie out for show-and-tells in the community, such as at nursing homes.
She also recalled an incident that occurred when Jimmie shared quarters in the old ape house with three female chimpanzees also brought from Africa. He was playing and spinning around in the outdoor part of the exhibit when he fell into the water moat. A docent reported that the female chimpanzees linked hands and tried to pull him out of the water. A human later pulled him out.
Jan Armstrong and her husband, Jack, who became zoo director, helped to nurse him back to health. When Armstrong visited the zoo to see Jimmie earlier this year, the chimp remembered her.
“He would come up to the window,” she said. “The keepers could tell that he recognized me.”
Of the three female chimps from Jimmie’s era, Patty and Blackie are still here. Crazy died a few years ago.