Joyful chimp sees foster mum - 30 years on

Last updated 12:00 04/04/2011

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As a toddler Sally the chimp was always a bit of a handful – and 30 years later, when reunited with her human foster mother at Hamilton Zoo, her antics continued with a few handstands.

Sally is one of the zoo's six chimpanzees, but had a rough start to life, being rejected by her mother soon after her birth at Auckland Zoo in the 1970s, which led the now 95-year-old Georgie Seccombe, the then head keeper's wife, to hand-raise the primate.

Although it had been decades since the pair had seen each other, the recognition was obvious when Sally saw Mrs Seccombe yesterday when she visited.

"She's just really lovely," Mrs Seccombe told the Waikato Times.

"She knew my voice straight away.

"She was up on a hill and I called out `hey Sal' and she came bounding down. They are really intelligent."

Hamilton Zoo primate keeper John Ray said he was "blown away" when approached by Mrs Seccombe's neighbour after giving a public talk at the zoo about six weeks ago.

"This woman just approached me with photos Georgie had given her of Sally being hand-reared at her home – it honestly blew me away," he said.

Mr Ray said the zoo's keepers were aware 38-year-old Sally had been hand-reared due to her preference for human company. "She has always preferred to hang out with us and groom us rather than mix with the other chimps," he said.

But Mr Ray said he would "never have expected" to meet the person who hand-reared the popular chimp. "To be honest I would have expected them to have either passed on or moved well away from the area – so to meet Georgie and be part of this reunion has been an incredible experience."

Mr Ray said chimpanzees were known for "incredible memory recall", which was obvious when Mrs Seccombe approached Sally at the zoo yesterday.

"There is no doubt in my mind that she [Sally] recognised Georgie – it was actually quite overwhelming."

The Seccombes lived next door to Auckland Zoo, and had no hesitation in raising the baby chimp as one of their own. The nappy-clad primate features prominently in family photo albums being pushed in a pram or playing with family members.

Mrs Seccombe said Sally was always a bit of a character and used to pull clothes out of her drawers all the time.

Judging by Sally's antics yesterday, Mrs Seccombe said it looked as though Sally was still a bit of a handful."I really enjoyed the day. It was good seeing her again – really nice."

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- Waikato Times

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