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Chimpanzee Holly Has Died at the Saint Louis Zoo

Holly, a beloved 19-year-old female chimpanzee at the Saint Louis Zoo, has died. She was humanely euthanized on Wednesday, March 7, due to advanced liver cancer. Blood work, radiographs and an ultrasound exam performed the previous day had suggested the presence of tumors affecting the function of her liver, gall bladder and pancreas.

On Wednesday, veterinarians attempted a surgical removal of these tumors, but these were inoperable. Given the irreversible and advanced nature of this cancer, veterinarians and animal care staff agreed that euthanasia was the most humane course of action while Holly was under anesthesia for the surgery.

“The animal care staff and all those who knew and loved Holly are grieving her loss,” says Heidi Hellmuth, Curator of Primates at the Saint Louis Zoo. “Our dedicated and experienced animal keeper and veterinary teams gave her the best care, and she gave us a unique and fun personality. She lived a great life surrounded by her chimpanzee and human families. She will be missed.”

“Advanced cancers of the liver have affected the lives of many humans and their families, and it is no surprise that one of our closest living species can be similarly affected by these devastating and aggressive types of cancer,” says Luis Padilla, DVM, DACZM, Director of Animal Health at the Saint Louis Zoo.

A necropsy is being conducted by the Zoo’s veterinary pathology team, which will yield additional details on the extent of Holly’s illness and help veterinarians to better understand disease processes in this species. It may take several weeks for all results to be finalized.

Holly was born on March 30, 1998, at the Montgomery Zoo in Alabama, but Holly’s mother was not able to care for her. Through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, Holly and Bakhari, a chimpanzee infant from the North Carolina Zoo in a similar situation, were transferred to the Saint Louis Zoo when they were just a few months old. The chimpanzee infants were cared for by a team of Zoo staff and a few docents at Jungle of the Apes. Through careful introductions, the pair was integrated into the chimpanzee troop.

Holly did not have any offspring. There are eight chimpanzees at the Zoo’s Jungle of the Apes and Donn & Marilyn Lipton Fragile Forest.

Chimpanzees are critically endangered in their native Africa. Populations are perilously low due to several factors, including deforestation, disease and the bushmeat crisis. The Zoo is dedicated to caring for chimpanzees both at the Zoo and through the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute, which works with partners to help conserve chimpanzees in their natural environments.