Rescued: 1998

Zulu is a former pet who came to the PRC from Georgia, along with Donald, Hazel, Victoria, and Debbie, who has since passed away. Known here as the “Dahlonega 5,” these chimpanzees were confined to a filthy concrete bunker once they were no longer safely able to live as “pets” in their owner’s home.

For more than a decade, these chimps had to make room for themselves by pushing newspaper bedding—along with years of their own waste—into piles that sometimes reached four feet high. They had no access to the outdoors, and lost both hair and muscle tone in these miserable conditions. Their food was inadequate and unhealthy, consisting mostly of highly processed, sugary carbohydrates. They rarely received fresh produce or foods rich in protein, essential aspects of a chimpanzee’s diet.

Zulu nevertheless retained an affinity for humans; she often sticks her lips through the bars of her enclosure, like a kiss, as a friendly gesture towards her caretakers. Along with her buddy Hazel, Zulu played an integral role in the introductions between the Dahlonega chimps and the seven youngsters from LEMSIP, a research laboratory affiliated with New York University that closed in the mid-1990s. She immediately took on a motherly role, bringing newcomers Rodney and Cory into her nest, as would a mother with her own offspring. And she continued to defend these juveniles during altercations—both would often run to her embrace at the first sign of stress among the group.

Zulu is still a matriarchal figure of sorts, often to her own detriment. Although the boys like to pester all the females, they know they can get away with picking on Zulu without her reprimanding them too much. She still holds a high position in the social hierarchy, especially since she has maintained close relationships with the young males. When our dominant male, Donald, is ready to relinquish his alpha role, we’re certain that Zulu will be instrumental in helping the next troop leader assume control.

Zulu has flourished at the PRC, but she still bears physical scars from her earlier days. Malnourished as an infant, and possibly a victim of rickets, her physical stature is small, her four limbs short and bowed. This doesn’t slow her down, however: she sprints to the breakfast feast in the playroom each morning, and races alongside Donald when someone needs disciplining.