Time for a cuppa between daily rounds

A former Auckland Zoo keeper remembers one of his best mates, a chimpanzee called Sally.

A former Auckland Zoo keeper remembers one his best mates, a chimpanzee called Sally. Photo / NZ Herald
A former Auckland Zoo keeper remembers one his best mates, a chimpanzee called Sally. Photo / NZ Herald

Where Auckland Zoo senior keeper Mick Sibley went, Sally followed.

When he drove around in the zoo train, she would sit up front beside him. When he fed other animals, she was there too, albeit sometimes hiding behind him as they approached those she was scared of.

"She wasn't too keen on the elephant, that's for sure. I think it was just because it was so big."

When lunchtime came and the pair grew hungry, they would join other keepers and eat outside together, Sibley says.

So when a New Zealand Herald photographer captured the pair enjoying a cup of tea outside the zoo's new $90,000 cafe in 1974 it was no big deal, says Sibley, who had started working at the zoo a couple of years earlier.

"I would always share my lunch with her, and she would drink tea."

There were no problems with the shoot. Hand-reared after being rejected by her parents Cissie and Charlie, Sally was a well-known fixture at the zoo and used to media attention, he says.

"It was all pretty straightforward, she was in quite a few photos back then."

The chimp spent her first couple of years of life being hand-reared by the wife of the zoo's head keeper at their home before moving to the zoo when she became too big.

But the chimp still needed a lot of care and attention, which was good practice before his five children were born, Sibley says.

"You had to bottle feed her and change her nappies - she was like a baby, although not quite as demanding. She'd wander around while we had lunch, wanting to explore her surroundings, but if she lost sight of you she'd get a bit scared and come back, like a child."

Then, as now, hand-rearing intelligent primates was frowned upon because it affected their ability to eventually integrate with other chimpanzees.

Sally was able to semi-integrate when she was transferred to Hamilton Zoo a few years later. She still lives there today.

As for Sibley, he remained at Auckland Zoo, which is celebrating its 90th birthday tomorrow, for 23 years. The 64-year-old now works at the University of Auckland, where his responsibilities include care of animals used within the School of Psychology.

Although he wasn't one to get too attached to the animals he looked after, he couldn't help but remember Sally fondly, Sibley says.

"She really was quite special."

cherie.howie@hos.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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