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Chimp and Foster Mother Reunite After 30 Years

Chimp and Foster Mother Reunite After 30 Years

Although it has been well over three decades since Georgie Seccombe first met Sally, a baby chimpanzee that had been rejected by her mother at a nearby zoo — the passing of time has done little to weaken the bond they formed back then. Their story begins in the 1970s, when Georgie’s husband, the head-zookeeper, brought home orphaned Sally as a way to offer the animal a chance at life. Over the next two years, Georgie served as foster mother to the young chimp, hand-raising and doting on her with the affection she required. Eventually, Sally was relocated to be among her kind and the pair lost touch. Just recently, however, now 95-year-old Georgie and 38-year-old Sally had occasion to reunite — and it seems in all that time they haven’t missed a beat.

Georgie, now well into her Golden Years, recently made it to Sally’s home for a visit with her former ward after decades apart. Despite the fact that Sally has been residing at New Zealand’s Hamilton Zoo, among other chimps for most of her life, the memories of her earliest years with her foster mother have yet to escape her mind.

“She’s just really lovely. She knew my voice straight away. She was up on a hill and I called out ‘hey Sal’ and she came bounding down,” Georgie told The Waikato Times. “They are really intelligent,” she added, as proud mothers are prone to do.

Sally’s keeper at the facility, primate specialist John Ray, says that he was “blown away” by the chimpanzee’s ability to recognize her foster mother after so many years. “[To] be part of this reunion has been an incredible experience.”

Some might question to what extent the emotional experience of primates mirrors our own, but for those who work with chimps on a daily basis, their feelings are often as transparent as ours.

“She got very excited. When she gets excited she’ll do a bit of a dance, put her hands in the air, reach out to people that she wants to get closer to … It’s her happy dance, which she did when she saw Georgie,” Ray told The New Zealand Herald.

It could be said that the less-than-human status of primates like chimpanzees is what makes them subject to the less-than-humane treatment they experience in their ever-dwindling natural habitats — or worse, in test labs throughout the world — but both formal research and informal observations seem to challenge these notions of a profound difference between our species.

Such realizations aren’t uncommon in folks like Georgie, who opened her heart and home to an orphaned chimpanzee decades ago, or Sally for that matter as the beneficiary of this uncommon-human bond.

Reflecting on the experience after being reunited with the chimp she raised for a time in the 1970s, for Georgie it seems the words and labels that divide human and animal emotions lose their footing in light of their bond — a lesson so simply expressed by the oldest and wisest among us.

“It was pretty hard to give her back,” says Georgie. “She’s just like a human being.”

This post was originally published by Treehugger.


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Photo courtesy of David Schenfeld via flickr
written by Stephen Messenger, a Treehugger blogger

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11:28PM PDT on Mar 12, 2014

So sweet! Thanks for sharing.

8:41AM PDT on Apr 26, 2013

“It was pretty hard to give her back,” says Georgie. “She’s just like a human being.”

Well, not quite. A human would never remember and run towards the voice or sight of a mother lost so long ago. Each species has their own unique time lined learning experiences and the monkey beats the human baby on this one.
Humans can lack foresight... why one earth did no one think to video tape this incident? It would have gone a long way towards showing people who don't know, how precious these animals are.

2:38AM PDT on Apr 18, 2013


1:08PM PDT on Apr 13, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

3:12AM PST on Jan 21, 2012


9:52AM PST on Jan 18, 2012

How heartwarming!

5:26PM PDT on Oct 15, 2011

great story!!

5:10AM PDT on Oct 13, 2011

would have loved to see a video of this, but of course she remembered her Mumma!

6:01PM PDT on Oct 12, 2011

Georgie is a wonderful and compassionate and caring person. I am delighted Sally recognized her and the two had a wonderful reunion. Heartwarming.

10:32AM PDT on Aug 24, 2011

I guess there is a St. Francis. The Saint for animals.

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