After a prolonged illness, Rita — considered to be India’s oldest chimpanzee — died at the National Zoological Park in Delhi Tuesday afternoon. It would have turned 60 on December 15, and was the only chimpanzee at the zoo.
On July 27, Rita stopped consuming solid food and only drank juices extracted from fresh fruits, water with supplements, and milk mixed with ground walnuts. Zoo authorities claimed that during the course of her illness, several vets from national parks and zoos across India visited it for treatment.
“At 12.15 pm Tuesday, Rita died of multiple organ failure. A post-mortem was conducted by a panel of five vets. Tissues of the organs have been sent to the Indian Veterinary Research Institute for further examination,” said zoo curator Riaz Khan.
The chimpanzee’s enclosure had been equipped with a water bed, mattresses, pillows and a TV playing videos of chimpanzees.
Due to her old age, Rita was given vitamins and minerals, liver tonic and iron supplement syrups on a regular basis. Last week, Sangeeta Dogra, who claims to be an animal rights activist, had moved the Delhi High Court, seeking intervention into the deteriorating health of Rita.
A zoo official claimed that towards the end of its life, Rita weighed 72 kg and its bent back due to old age made her look no taller than four feet.
“It was the oldest member of our zoo family… we parted ways with tears in our eyes… a garland of flowers was also placed as a token of respect,” said Khan.
Most chimpanzees survive till the age of 40. Rita came to the Delhi zoo from the Amsterdam zoo on February 27, 1964, and was shifted to the Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park in Chhatbir, Punjab in 1990. It returned to the Delhi zoo in 2006.
A zoo source said, “Rita was probably the first-ever chimpanzee of the zoo. After it, another chimpanzee, Rustam, arrived from Amsterdam. Then Rita was moved and when she came back, she found company in a chimpanzee called Moni, who died of TB in 2014. Since then she’s been alone.” Rita gave birth to babies decades ago but none survived.
Rita occupied an enclosure in the primate section and would often hang out around an unknown heritage structure inside the enclosure — a Mughal-era structure and one of the 19 monuments inside the zoo. Due to Rita’s death, the zoo has cancelled the inaugural function of wildlife week on October 2.