PRINCESS PEGGY: Profile of a chimpanzee

PEGGY is our female chimpanzee.  


Peggy was taken from the wild as a juvenile while living in her native Africa.  Somehow, she found her way into the Zoo system.  She first appeared in zoo records in 1972 at the Cleveland Zoo. Not being reared by chimpanzees, Peggy has a few behavioral abnormalities. The main one is that she is not interested in breeding with male chimpanzees.  Instead she seems almost flirtatious with human males, especially the ones with facial hair.


We have male volunteer who Peggy absolutely adores. She has only seen him on the visitor side of things, but she definitely recognizes him and lets him know that she likes him.   If he is at the visitor viewing window talking to visitors with his back to her, she will pound on the window until he turns and gives her his attention.  Although it’s amusing, this is not normal chimp behavior. Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon with chimpanzees that identify more with humans than fellow chimps. 


Peggy’s “affections”  are not only given to human males.  She is definitely able to ‘turn on the charm’ if she wants something from the zookeepers.  From us, it’s mainly food items.    In this case, she acknowledges us with an open lipped kissing face. Sometimes she opens her lips so far when she’s doing it she reminds me of a horse curling it’s lips back.  


Chimp troops have a complicated social hierarchy, but due to Peggy’s behavior she will probably never be the dominant female even though she is the oldest in our troop. She is, however, Sanga, the alpha-female’s, “first lieutenant”.  Peggy will back Sanga up in fights, go to Sanga first for reassurance after a fight, and pretty much go wherever Sanga goes. There are times that Peggy won’t go outside until Sanga does – waiting patiently by the door. 


Peggy loves food!  She is usually first to settle down at her ‘station’.  Each chimp has a place to sit in their den area to receive their food (this prevents food snatching).  If Peggy knows we have placed a favorite food out in the exhibit, she’ll be the first one to run directly to the food and gather those items up.  She will have her mouth, both hands AND both feet filled with food before the other chimps have even grabbed one item!  She will even try to run off with something WAY too big for her to carry easily (see picture below).


Peggy is one of frequent targets of Kiambi’s (the teenager) pranks.  This is mainly because Kiambi always gets a dramatic reaction from Peggy.  Kiambi likes to throw things at Peggy and sometimes this “play” escalates to a wild chase that Kiambi finds great fun and Peggy does not. Unfortunately it sometimes gets all the other chimps riled up and soon all of them are screaming and chasing each other. And people wonder why I have hearing problems!


Chimpanzee training is a big part of a chimp keeper’s day.  It’s important that we are able to examine various body parts to assess a new injury, trim nails, or administer a shot.  Training allows us to observe and sometimes treat these animals without having to sedate them.   Peggy is not our prize pupil among trainees but she definitely wants the treat, so she tries hard to do as she is instructed.  She’s not quite there yet, though.  When we ask her to open her mouth, I think she clamps her lips tighter together J


I could go on and on about Peggy (each of our chimps actually). I have worked with them for over 10 years and they have become like substitute children (although children I never hug or touch by because they are so dangerous!). There are many stories, sad times and funny moments I could tell you. So hopefully you now know our Peggy a little bit better and can enjoy her antics as much as we do!




About Julie Katt

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Julie has been a Zookeeper at John Ball Zoo since 1998.  She received a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources at Oregon State University.  

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