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A Chimp By Any Other Name

April 30, 2007

In this our second installment of our (quite) occasional series on real-life critters, we turn the spotlight onto Cheeta, the Hollywood chimpanzee who turned 75 earlier this month.*

Born April 9, 1932, Cheeta is recognized as the oldest living primate by Guinness World Records. Credit his advanced age (way above the norm for chimpanzees, even in captivity) to a lifestyle of champagne dreams and caviar wishes. Apropos to his pedigree as a star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Cheeta retreated to the desert oasis of Palm Springs to spend his golden years in luxurious comfort — or, the Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered & Threatened Apes primate sanctuary run by Dan Westfall.

Cheeta is famous for working with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan in the Tarzan movie series from the 1930s and ’40s. But, as is tragically the case for many child actors in the faded afterglow of show biz celebrity, there is a dark side to Cheeta’s fame. At just a couple months of age, Cheeta was taken from his African home to be groomed as a Hollywood star. In a 2003 National Geographic story on Cheeta, Canadian chimp expert Gloria Grow said: “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that they [trained chimpanzees] are pretty dysfunctional.”

Perhaps as a form of creative therapy, Cheeta spends his time painting ape-stract™ art, that is, whenever he’s not watching his old movies.

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