EXPIRED: 09/17/09 – Charlie, 39, was a baby chimpanzee in Liberia destined to become some villager’s “bushmeat” meal when a U.S. mining contractor bought him and turned him over to the Oregon Zoo.
He was partial to blondes, knews that guys in ties are authority figures and invented his own sign language expression for M&Ms: “candy berries.”
At 39, he was deep into middle age, with wiry gray hair framing his face. His broad back dusted white, but his long arms, thick shoulders and dominating ways made him the peacemaker among the four squabbling females he lives with. And he could be dangerously cantankerous. He was known to throw chunks of wood at visitors to the Zoo, and once scored a direct hit on a radio reporter with a piece of poop. More frightening, he bit off the zoo director’s finger years ago.
Zoo employees say he was studious, keenly intelligent and surprisingly cooperative. He inspired a loyalty humans would envy: Dave Thomas, senior primate keeper, has been his ally and ambassador for the past 35 years. And when former keepers came to visit after years away, he remembered them.
Renowned chimp expert Jane Goodall was properly smitten. “You can see it in his eyes,” she said during a visit to Portland in the 1970s.
He was a Prince at the zoo. One minute he was fine, the next he was stone cold. The female chimps screamed. Vets at the zoo suspect he died suddenly of a heart attack or stroke.