Sacramento Zoo officials announced Thursday that Josie, the matriarch of the zoo's chimpanzee troop, has died.
Josie was estimated to be 48 years old and was being treated by zoo veterinarians for a variety of age-related illnesses. Her condition worsened over the weekend and the decision was made Thursday morning to euthanize her to prevent her suffering, zoo officials said.
"You can't imagine how tough this decision was," zoo director Mary Healy said in a written statement. "On the one hand, you have an amazing chimpanzee that has been a very special part of the zoo for 26 years. On the other hand, you see a friend who has been suffering and you have done everything feasible to make her better."
Josie was purchased from Africa by an individual in Fremont in the early 1960s, zoo officials said. A few years later, she was donated to the Fresno Zoo, then moved to Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi. She joined the Sacramento Zoo's group of chimpanzees in 1986.
Josie loved people-watching and liked to interact with children. Zoo officials said she would often raise her hand to the glass as a greeting to babies and toddlers, and she would keep her eye on them as they toured the chimpanzee area. She also loved to paint and often went through phases in her choice of colors.
Josie was one of six chimpanzees in the troop and the eldest female. Joe, a male, is a year older, and he and Josie came to the Sacramento Zoo about the same time, said Harrison Edell, the zoo's general curator. The six were like a family, and as such, he said it was important for the other chimpanzees to understand why Josie was absent.
Following her death, he said, she was returned to an enclosed room in the chimpanzees' living quarters, and the other chimpanzees were allowed in, much as human family members might come to pay their respects, Edell said.
"It was very touching," he said, to observe Josie's fellow chimpanzees, as well as her keepers, bid her farewell.
Because of the complex social structure among chimpanzees, Edell said, zoo officials will wait awhile before considering whether to add another animal to the troop.
Chimpanzees come from the central belt of Africa where they live in forests, dry woodland savannas and tropical rain forests. In the wild, they live up to 40 years and can live up to 60 years in captivity. They are endangered, and their main predators are leopards, lions and humans.
Donations in Josie's memory can be made via the zoo's website at www.saczoo.org, or by calling (916) 808-8815. Officials said the donations will go toward the care of the zoo's other chimpanzees.