Peter

Displaying a combination of poise, character, and a sense of humor, Peter won the hearts of guests and staff alike.
  • 1920s
  • 1940s

From the tip of his azure and vermillion proboscis to his equally brilliant behind, Peter the mandrill distinguished himself from the other animals around him. A social and sensitive soul, he gave everyone who passed his home a mandrill-style greeting. The colorful baboon was quite fond of one staff member in particular, and to get his attention, Pete would “shake his head, grit his teeth, and draw back his lips in what others still consider a hideous leer,” but the keeper insisted it was a friendly gesture.

Belle Benchley, then Zoo director, said Peter was “friendly and loved an audience.” For Zoo guests, “…he would turn majestically round and round, grunting what the Zoo staff later learned to know was a message of friendship.” Peter seemed to enjoy entertaining guests, but his greetings to staff came with an expectation. From front-line employee to Zoo director, everyone learned to always call out his name in a happy, friendly greeting when they passed by. If they didn’t, Peter would sit with his back to the world and sulk—and no one wanted to hurt his feelings.

Peter’s companion, Susie, didn’t share his bond with humans. She was quick to fly off the primate handle when provoked: “She tries in every conceivable manner to get her victim to approach her cage close enough so that she may grasp his hair or nose.” Unless the person was holding a mysterious-looking bag, that is. Then the savvy primate became a “coy and winsome gold-digger, and her excellent behavior is amazing.”

By all accounts, Peter and Susie were deeply devoted to one another. In 1939, a ZOONOOZ article described Susie’s fastidious behavior toward her mate, spending most of her time “cleaning delicious crumbs of food matter and tasty bits of dandruff from his soft brown fur.” When Susie passed away later in life, Peter was introduced to a new, younger female companion in hopes they would breed. But although he shared his space with her peacefully, they never “clicked.” Social, sweet Peter had his preferences and stuck to them.

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