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Knoxville says goodbye to its beloved chimpanzee Debbie
FEBRUARY 15, 2017 at 5:46 p.m.

chimpanzee debbie
Zoo Knoxville's beloved chimpanzee, Debbie, was euthanized yesterday. Image courtesy of Zoo Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE — With great sadness Zoo Knoxville shares the news of the death of Debbie chimpanzee, a beloved personality and matriarch of the chimpanzee troop for more than 40 years.

Debbie had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer and renal failure. Her health deteriorated quickly over the last few days. She was in a great deal of discomfort due to her advancing disease, refusing food, drink and pain medication. Despite exhaustive efforts by her Great Apes caretakers and vet team, it became clear her quality of life had reached a turning point. The decision was made to humanely euthanize her Tuesday afternoon.

Debbie came to the zoo in 1976 when she was 5 years old. A former pet, she became too dangerous and unruly to remain in a human household as she matured. Although chimpanzees raised by humans often have a hard time integrating with other chimpanzees, Debbie quickly learned from the other chimpanzees and thrived. She became an attentive and doting mother and navigated the complex social ranks of chimpanzees to become the leader of the troop, a role typically held by male chimpanzees. An exceptionally smart and loyal chimpanzee, Debbie was loved and respected by her caretakers for her personality and big heart.

“Debbie taught us so many things about chimpanzees. Her legacy as an ambassador for her species lies in her own story about the illicit pet trade and the ethics of isolating chimpanzees for entertainment,” said Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa New. “For me personally, Debbie was the most important and influential animal I have ever known. But Debbie was more than just a teacher. She was my friend.”

Zoo Knoxville is situated on 53 wooded acres just east of downtown Knoxville. Zoo Knoxville features exhibits of wild animals in natural habitats and is world renowned for its efforts in conservation and species survival. Knoxville’s largest attraction, the zoo is open every day except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Currently, the zoo is open from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily. Admission and ticket sales stop one-hour before the zoo closes. For more information visit

Published February 15, 2017

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