Caring for animals is the most rewarding job in the world. I am humbled every day working with some of the most amazing, smart and complex animals. Our animal care family develops an incredible emotional bond with the individuals in our care. For 46 years our team here has cared for one incredible individual—June the chimpanzee—and today we sadly had to say goodbye.
At 46 years old, June had reached a very advanced age: the median life expectancy for female chimpanzees is 39 years. She had a chronic cardiopulmonary condition that recently progressed beyond control of her medications. She reached a stage where her quality of life was compromised, and our staff had to make the difficult but appropriate decision to euthanize her.
Some members of the public may not know June. But we all knew her well, and needless to say, it has been a very hard day for our zoo family. June lived in an auxiliary area of Regenstein Center for African Apes that is not open to the general public. This private area provided a more peaceful setting for June, and it’s where her geriatric troopmates (Keo, Kibali and Vicky) will continue to reside.
June was born here at Lincoln Park Zoo. She is the daughter of 54-year-old Keo (who is still with us, and also happens to be the oldest male chimpanzee alive in any accredited North American zoo). It is very likely June and Keo have had the longest lasting father-daughter bond of any chimpanzees in the world—ever—in zoos or in the wild.
June was a very inquisitive and demonstrative chimpanzee. She was captivated by novel objects inside or outside her habitat. At the end of the day she could be seen spending time meticulously creating the “perfect” nest for the night.
June developed a close relationship with our animal care staff in the last several years of her life as a result of her heart condition, which required multiple daily mediations. She was one of many geriatric animals in our care here at the zoo, and we are deeply saddened by her loss.
Working with living creatures every day brings with it an incredible amount of emotions. There’s joy at births, milestones and seeing zoo residents happy and healthy. And some days bring the sadness of loss. Today is one of those days… we lost a beloved member of our family. June was an absolute treasure and we will remember her always.
Maureen Leahy is Lincoln Park Zoo's curator of primates.