Lincoln Park Zoo officials have pinpointed a common respiratory virus as the illness that infected the zoo’s seven chimpanzees, killing one of them last month.
But how the chimps contracted metapneumovirus - whose symptoms include coughing, runny noses and diarrhea - may never be known, said Steve Thompson, senior vice president of conservation programs at the zoo.
“It’s very, very unlikely it came from the staff,” Thompson said.
Chimps living in the wild can also contract this virus, he said. This is the first death from a respiratory disease at the zoo in more than two decades.
On Friday, as zoo visitors got a look at the six remaining chimps lolling in the Regenstein Center for African Apes, Thompson described the dramatic and heartbreaking events surrounding the death of 9-year-old chimp Kipper on March 26.
On March 19, zookeepers noticed Kipper and the other chimpanzees coughing and sniffling. They took the chimps from their public viewing area to an area where they could be more closely monitored.
Four days later, Kipper’s breathing was labored, his lungs “very, very congested,” Thompson said.
Taken to the zoo hospital, he was put on oxygen and intravenous fluids Monday, March 23. The next morning, he appeared to be on the road to recovery, sitting up and actually removing his IV.
Suddenly, he stopped breathing.
“He was fooling us that he got better,” Thompson said.
Despite cardiopulmonary resuscitation - performed the same on chimps as humans, except the use of an air bag instead of a human mouth - Kipper died.
Zoo staff mourned the loss, but it’s unclear if the six other chimps, a group that includes Kipper’s mother Cashew, even know that one of their own is gone.
“We don’t really now how they feel or what they’re thinking about it,” he said, adding that the six chimps were also dealing with their own symptoms from the virus.
“A zoo is like a small town -- animals die and animals are born,” Thompson said. “All the animals, and all of us, are going to die eventually.”