A beloved chimpanzee that arrived at the San Francisco Zoo in the mid-1960s has died at the age of 63, zoo officials said Sunday.

Cobby, who officials said was the oldest male chimpanzee in an accredited North American zoo, died Saturday. Officials have not determined the cause of death, but said he was recently ill and age was a factor.

“Our hearts are broken at this devastating loss,” said Tanya Peterson, executive director of the San Francisco Zoological Society, in a statement. “Cobby was both a charismatic and compassionate leader of our chimpanzee troop. His death will be deeply felt by our employees, many of whom have looked after him for decades. “

Cobby was the oldest of a seven-chimp troop that included his 52-year-old companions Minnie and Maggie, with whom he lived for 42 years, according to the Zoo. Officials said Cobby’s death would be particularly difficult for them.

Cobby and three companions – Minnie, Maggie, and Tallulah, who died in 2013 – arrived at the San Francisco Zoo in the mid-1960s and lived together in the Triple Grotto, the zoo’s outdoor exhibit.

In recent years, Cobby’s troop has grown to include some of the oldest chimpanzees in human care, zoo officials said.

Four adult chimpanzees were brought to the zoo in 2018 and 2019 and successfully joined the troop thanks to Cobby’s leadership, zoo officials said.

Cobby was first paired with Gombus, a 34-year-old male chimpanzee. Cobby had never lived with male chimpanzees before, but staff said he had easily become a role model for Gombus on how to build relationships between men while maintaining strong bonds with his female companions.

Shortly thereafter, a 28-year-old chimpanzee named Michael, a 34-year-old chimpanzee named Connie, and a 42-year-old chimpanzee named Beth were introduced to the troop.

Later in 2019, the group moved to the Great Ape Passage, an expanded zoo habitat that the zoo says is designed to help older animals integrate with younger troop members.

Zoo officials said Cobby enjoyed resting on various platforms in the enclosure, nibbling on his favorite foods, climbing up to hang out with Minnie, and interacting with his keepers. All the chimpanzees, but especially Cobby, were intrigued by the new large viewing windows that allowed them to see visitors up close and interact with them.

Before arriving at the zoo, Cobby was an executive chimpanzee raised by humans. Zoo officials said his relationships with caretakers are almost as important as those with his troop members.

Although Cobby had no offspring, the zoo staff said his preferred nickname was “Papa”. At night he said goodbye to the staff and attendants with a low scream.

Chimpanzees are listed as critically endangered species and are among the most endangered primates in Africa due to the threat of hunting, habitat loss and disease, according to the San Francisco Zoo. The average life expectancy of chimpanzees is 33 years in the wild and 50 to 60 years in captivity.

“Cobby was part of San Francisco,” said Peterson. “He touched so many lives and people have so many memories of him. We will all miss seeing his beautiful gray beard watch over us from the top platform of the courtyard. “

Vanessa Arredondo is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @v_anana