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This dying chimpanzee recognised an old friend and her reaction is making us melt

In a heartbreaking video, a sick 59-year-old chimpanzee recognizes a human friend she has not seen in years.

She immediately reacts in such an emotional embrace you’ll have trouble holding back your tears.

Mama was the oldest chimpanzee and established matriarch of the chimp colony at the Royal Burgers Zoo in Arnheim, Netherlands. She was weak, unresponsive and refused to eat or drink.

Curled up in a ball – seemingly just waiting for destiny to call – she suddenly reacts with ecstatic joy after recognising an old friend, biologist Jan van Hooff, co-founder of the Burgers colony.

Her face immediately lights up with an enormous, touching smile before she caresses him and stretches out to bring his head down to hers in a gesture that’s astonishingly human.

The pair had known each other since 1972, when Mama was brought to the zoo from Africa.

Professor Johan “Jan” van Hooff, who retired in 2001, worked with primates during his entire career, which kickstarted in 1966 when he was part of the research team that prepared manned space missions for the US Air Force.

He did extensive research on the facial expressions of primates and taught comparative physiology at Utrecht University since the 80’s.

The magnificent ape was nicknamed the “grand lady” because of her dominant nature. Her role in the colony was studied extensively by Frans de Waal, renowned Dutch primatologist who documented her behaviour in the book “Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex Among Apes” from 2007.

Mama died a week after the video was shot. After her death, professor de Waal said, “She had an exceptionally strong and dominant personality, so that no man who wanted to come to power could do so around her.

“She also brought consolation when there were tensions and mediated conflicts,” he added.

“She will be sorely missed, also by me, because I have rarely seen such an admirable character in both humans and apes.”

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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