Georgie

The first chimpanzee born at the Zoo was as pampered and doted on as you might expect—until his sister came along, that is.
  • 1930s
  • 1950s

Things had never been exactly quiet in the chimpanzee exhibit, with Tim and his mate, Katie, demanding attention from staff and visitors and having their own shrieking and banging quarrels. But in 1938, the birth of Georgie added a new layer of complexity to the goings-on. He was an adorable bundle of black fluff with a pink face and enormous ears, and everyone was smitten. He was not only the Zoo’s first chimpanzee birth but also the first birth of any of the great ape species, and he drew quite a crowd.

That didn’t sit well with Tim, however, who had been moved to an adjacent enclosure so that Katie and her son could bond. Katie showed Tim his offspring right away—only to have Tim respond by spitting a stream of water at her and Georgie. Tim seemed to resent the attention she was giving the baby, as well as the attention the people were giving him. Tim threw more than one tantrum until a surprise gift from a frequent visitor caught his attention: a cowbell. He enjoyed the loud clanging, banging, and scraping noises he could make with it so much that it took his mind off his troubles; even though Zoo director Belle Benchley said it nearly drove the staff mad.

When Georgie was six months old, Tim was reunited with his little family and settled down, for the most part. There continued to be a father-son rivalry, but at least Tim’s tantrums became less frequent. Georgie had his ways of holding his own, though. Every day the three chimps were each given a pan of milk to drink, and Georgie was determined that his father wouldn’t get his. As Belle described it, “Down his lips went into the rich milk and he scarcely drew his face out of the pan until the quart was gone, for he knew that on the other side of the partition his father was finishing off his pan in record time.” Georgie would even hold the pan over his head to catch the last drops.

Katie was an excellent mother and doted on her son. But then the day came when Georgie’s world was turned upside down by a new creature that “set his hair all on end”: a sister, named Gracie. Katie tried her best to take care of both her children and manage Tim, but it became clear that the situation was too stressful. The staff decided that Georgie, who was then four years old, needed to move out on his own. His keeper, Byron Moore, and Belle tried to give him lots of attention, but Belle said, “He was heartbroken, mad, and hated man and I was included in that term.” However, little by little, Georgie overcame his indignation and was soon back to his cheerful, playful self.

In a couple of years, Georgie had his own mate, Esther, and became a father himself. The baby girl was named Punkie—because, as Belle said, she was a punk and a troublemaker. Perhaps a case of what goes around comes around?

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