Gregoire, Africa’s oldest known chimpanzee and a celebrity throughout Congo, died peacefully at his home, the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center, Dec. 17, 2008. As was the case every night, he was alongside his long-time companion Clara.
Gregoire lived at the sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees for the past 11 years. He was a resilient, gentle chimpanzee who had survived more than 40 years of solitary display in a barren cage at a zoo and then an airlift during a civil war. His twilight years were peaceful and content thanks largely to the care of doting sanctuary staff members and the initial intervention of Jane Goodall. When Jane met him in 1990, he was emaciated, hairless and suffering intensely from loneliness and boredom. Jane saw to it that his care improved at the zoo and then, when war broke out, arranged for the transport to Tchimpounga.
At the sanctuary, where JGI cares for more than 140 chimpanzees orphaned by the illegal commercial bushmeat trade, Gregoire was a favorite of caretakers and visitors alike. His striking appearance – balding, with only one good eye and what author Dale Peterson described as a “shipwreck of ancient teeth” – made him unforgettable. But not as much as his mellow and childlike personality, which captivated all until the very end.