Maggie

An Orangutan with a love for Model T Automobiles
  • 1920s
  • 1940s

Maggie was one of the San Diego Zoo’s first orangutans. She and another youngster, Little Jiggs, arrived at the Zoo in 1928—in the front passenger seat of a Model T Ford. Both had been hand raised and were used to people, so the caretaker delivering them to the Zoo just settled them in the seat of a car and drove them. Maggie apparently had a fondness for vehicles. While she was still young, her keeper at the Zoo sometimes took her for short drives around the grounds in his own car, and Maggie seemed to thoroughly enjoy these jaunts, eagerly looking around and squealing excitedly.

Maggie had another fondness: taking apart gates and fences in her enclosure. She was very good at it, and more than once she was found in the morning taking an unauthorized stroll. One day Henry and Zoo director Belle Benchley could not find her in any of the usual places and became worried. But Belle had a hunch, and she went to check the employee cars parked near the primate area. As she approached, she heard a horn honking—and sure enough, there was Maggie, in the driver’s seat of Henry’s car holding the steering wheel, doing her best to get the car to go. She had passed several other cars very like Henry’s and climbed into the one she considered “hers.”

Eventually Maggie was paired with Mike, a lean, long-limbed male. When they first met, Mike was in the upper part of the exhibit, and Maggie came out cautiously to see him. At first she stood under him and blew at him noisily, trying to provoke him. When he didn’t react, Belle described the scene: “She reached one hand up to him and raised one foot off the ground, curled her toes up gracefully, wiggled and twisted, the while gazing up into Mike’s face with something of admiration in her eyes, as though she were a shy and modest maiden suddenly fallen in love with an awe-inspiring suitor.” But it wasn’t until Maggie pulled on his foot then dashed off that Mike reacted, chasing her—and the rest was history. The two developed a strong bond, even if mischievous Maggie did drive Mike crazy sometimes, and lived together peacefully for many years.

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