Illness Kills Chimp, Six Sickened

Unidentified infection hits Lincoln Park Zoo's ape house

Something's happening at the zoo, and it has zookeepers worried, puzzled and devastated.

Keepers at Lincoln Park Zoo are carefully monitoring six sick chimps after another chimpanzee died there Tuesday from a respiratory illness.

"We are guessing it's a virus, but we don't really know exactly what it is," zoo spokeswoman Sharon Dewar said today.

Dewar said 9-year-old Kipper, a male chimp, developed pneumonia in both lungs. But she said the cause of the infection probably won't be known until results are in from a necropsy, which could take two weeks.

Zoo staffers noticed the seven chimps developed cold-like symptoms in recent days.

There's added concern that the sickness could spread to other animals in the zoo's ape house, the Regenstein Center for African Apes.

"We are doing everything to minimize the chance of that happening," Dewar said.

She said zoo staffers are devastated by the loss of the adolescent chimpanzee.

The chimps "all have very unique and individual personalities," Dewar said. "So this is really a difficult time for our team at the zoo."

The close relationship keepers have with the chimps is understandable. Around 94 percent of human and chimpanzee DNA sequences are the same.

The Lincoln Park Zoo had a spate of animal deaths in 2005.  The animals included three elephants, three langur monkeys, two gorillas and a camel.  Investigations at the time found a series of different causes, ranging from infections to geriatric problems.

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