At age 59, the sun was setting on the life of a chimpanzee named Mama. Too weak to eat or drink, Mama wanted nothing more than to be left alone, to pass in peace.
Born in the wild around 1957, Mama was brought to the Netherlands from Germany in 1971. She lived at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in Arnhem, Netherlands.
According to her caregivers and zoologists, Mama was a force to be reckoned with. She quickly established herself as the dominant matriarch in her chimp colony; she was easily the most famous chimp at the zoo.
Now, she lay in bed, refusing the slightest bit of food or water. Mama knew her end was near, and so did the rest of her colony, who had already said their goodbyes.
But one important man in Mama’s life, a professor named Jan van Hooff, had yet to say goodbye. Van Hoof had known Mama since 1972, and was a co-founder of Mama’s colony at the zoo.
About a week before she passed, van Hooff paid a visit to his beloved chimp. Weak and withdrawn, Mama was slow to realize her dear friend’s presence.
As van Hooff spoke in gentle, hushed tones, Mama began to take notice. “Mama,” van Hooff whispered, gently stroking her frail shoulder and offering her a bite to eat.
There was something familiar about the scent, the sound of his voice, and curiously, Mama turned her head. The memories came flooding back, and an emotional and excited Mama could scarcely contain herself; watch below.
Her mouth opened into a huge grin and she spoke, lifting her arm to her beloved professor’s head. The pair of old friends embraced, bringing tears to eyes across the internet.
Van Hooff’s visit was just in time, as Mama passed away from old age in April 2016. The zoo mourned the loss of the oldest chimpanzee in captivity in the Netherlands.
“Mama was the ‘grand lady’ of the chimpanzee colony,” behavioral scientist Frans de Waal told the NL Times. “She had an exceptionally strong and dominant personality, so that no man who wanted to come to power could do so around her.”
“She also brought consolation when there were tensions and mediated conflicts,” de Waal continued. “She will be sorely missed.”