NEW DELHI: A cake shaped like a chimp’s face, a ball, a blanket and dry fruits for gifts, and scores of cheering schoolchildren watching proceedings on a screen—that was how the 58th birthday of Rita, the oldest member of Delhi zoo and possibly the oldest chimpanzee in India, was celebrated on Thursday.
The idea was Renu Singh’s, the director of the National Zoological Park in Delhi, where the chimp was brought in February 1964 from Amsterdam as part of an exchange programme. She weighs 60 kg and is four feet tall.
Rita’s caretakers Vinod and Ram Mohan said the chimp—now lonely after her mate Max, who was brought from London zoo, died—was very fond of dry fruits but seldom ventured out of her enclosure. Rita had four babies with Max, but none of them survived.
In line with her secluded ways, the zoo authorities organised the celebrations within her enclosure, full with a cut-out of Rita accompanying the 2.5 kg cake. Slices of the cake were distributed to the schoolchildren but Rita wasn’t given a piece, possibly for health reasons. She, however, watched a documentary on the zoo on a visual system rigged up inside her enclosure, her every move being projected on the screen outside.
“My aim is to increase communication with children and offer them zoo education. That’s why I invited the schoolchildren. We need to generate more enthusiasm for the zoo. Such events go some way in doing that,” said Singh, who was posted at Lucknow Zoo before being sent to Delhi six months ago.
“After Max passed away, Rita has been alone. It does get lonely for her sometimes, otherwise she is a fun-loving animal,” she added.
Amrit Shubham, a Class V student of Ramjas School, R K Puram, said, “It was awesome because we celebrated a chimpanzee’s birthday for the first time. The experience was very good. But they should have let her cut the cake on her own.” For Rita, hopefully there will be more such birthdays to come.