Norway’s most famous chimpanzee, Julius, fell seriously ill during the recent winter holiday week after drinking the contents of a plastic bottle that someone tossed into his chimp enclosure at the country’s largest zoo in Kristiansand. The bottle contained narcotics, sending the chimp into a dangerous psychosis.
“We’re shocked,” Rolf-Arne Ølberg, zoo veterinarian, stated on the zoo’s own website Tuesday morning. He and his colleagues find it difficult to believe that anyone would intentionally subject a defenseless animal to what Julius underwent late last month.
The zoo (Dyreparken i Kristiansand) revealed on Tuesday that the 39-year-old Julius went into a “psychosis-like condition” during the afternoon of February 21, when local schools were closed and many youngsters and students were on holiday. He started behaving strangely, sitting alone and then biting his own arm.
He continued to bite himself after zookeepers got him indoors. They then put him to sleep so that veterinarians could examine his arm. X-rays showed no signs of any fracture. The vets took some tests, attended to his self-inflicted wound and stitched it up.
When Julius woke up, however, he started biting himself again, ripping the wound open and inflicting more injury upon himself. After another round of anesthesia to re-treat the wound the next day, he finally started behaving more normally again.
“That’s when we first began to suspect that he’d imbibed something that could explain the abnormal behaviour,” Ølberg said. He and his colleagues took blood and urine tests and sent them to St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, which confirmed narcotics in his blood. “Over the next few days we mainly just watched over him,” Ølberg said. “We were so glad he was getting better, and his wound is healing.” Ølberg stressed that “it could have been much worse,” noting that the drugs could have killed Julius.
They also launched an investigation of their own of sorts, which has now been taken over by police. That same day, a family visiting the “Jungle” section of the zoo where Julius resides reported to a zookeeper that they’d seen a person throw a plastic bottle into the chimps’ enclosure. Video from a surveillance camera was then checked and Julius was seen carrying a bottle. He’s the only chimp who knows how to unscrew the cork, and he likes sweet soft drinks.
Charmer, and a main attraction
Police are now scanning the surveillance video as well, and calling for tips from the public. Zoo officials hope police can track down who threw the bottle and wanted to drug Julius, who’s been the zoo’s most famous resident since he was born there iin 1979. When he was rejected by his mother, he grew up with the family of his keeper and quickly charmed the nation at the time.
Julius has spent the past 14 years as leader of the pack of chimps and other animals in the “Ape jungle” at the zoo. He also has several children at the zoo, including sons Julius Jr, born in 2003, and Linus, born in 2006, and daughter Yr, born in 2011.
Genetic testing has shown that Julius belongs to a West African species that’s threatened with extinction, making him and his offspring important to an international conservation program aimed at protecting the species. Zoo officials noted that chimpanzees are losing their habitats and targeted by hunters, with their numbers declining from around 2 million worldwide in 1900 to less than 300,000 today.