Discover The Oldest Chimpanzee Ever Recorded

Written by Rebecca
Updated: September 19, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/herbertlewald
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Key Points

  • Chimps are close relatives to humans, however, they don’t seem to age as long.
  • Chimpanzees live between 30-40 years in captivity and 15-30 years in the wild.
  • Joao is the oldest known chimp alive today!
  • Common causes for death in chimps include stillbirth, loss of habitat, poaching, heart conditions, and disease.

Chimpanzees are close relatives to humans, but they don’t live quite as long as us. However, they seem to stay active well into their elderly years and are said to age better than humans.

The oldest chimpanzee, Little Mama, potentially lived into her mid-eighties—we can’t be positive of her age, since her exact birthdate was never recorded. Joao might be as old as Little Mama was when she died, and is still alive today—meaning he might take her record as the oldest chimp to ever live!

What’s for sure is that Joao is the oldest known chimp alive today.

In this article, we’ll talk about the oldest chimps ever recorded. You’ll learn Little Mama and Joao’s stories, along with some other old chimpanzees!

How Long do Chimpanzees Live?

Chimpanzee lifespan - older chimpanzee
Chimpanzees live much longer in captivity

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Chimpanzees live between 30-40 years in captivity and 15-30 years in the wild. Infant mortality is high, and stillborn births are common—making up 12% of births in accredited zoos.

Despite this low average, some chimps do live past 60 or even 70 years of age.

Common causes for death in chimps include stillbirth, loss of habitat, poaching, heart conditions, and disease.

In most causes, in captivity female chimps usually live longer than males do by about 7 years. The average chimp in the wild sadly has a much lower lifespan as a chimp in captivity. Most chimps will only live about 15 to 30 years in the wild, while a chimp in captivity will live at least 30 years and some live much longer.

The World’s Oldest Chimpanzee

Chimpanzee Lifespan - Baby Chimpanzee
Little Mama may have been 84 years old!

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The world’s oldest chimpanzee ever recorded might be Little Mama. Her birthdate is unknown, as is common with captive chimps, so we can’t be sure that she’s actually the oldest ever.

Little Mama was forced to perform as a travelling ice skater and spent her later years at Lion Country Safari, a drive-through safari in Florida that takes in animals that have been used for research or performance purposes.

They have a unique chimpanzee exhibit that includes islands the chimpanzees can move in between. This allows the chimps to travel similarly to how they would in the wild.

Little Mama died in November of 2017 from kidney failure and was thought to be between 78-84 years old.

5 More of the Oldest Chimps to Ever Live

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Chimpanzees share more than 98% of their DNA with humans

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Though Little Mama is often seen as the oldest recorded chimp, there is another chimp named Joao who might actually be in first place—if not now, then he might overtake her record soon, as Joao is still alive today.

Here are some of the other oldest chimps in the world, besides Little Mama:

  1. Joao

Like Little Mama, Joao was unfortunately forced to perform in a circus early in his life. He was given to Maputo Zoo at a young age.


Joao’s story isn’t a happy one from here, however, as the female he came to the zoo with died. The zoo was unable to find another chimp due to war, and so Joao spent 45 years alone in captivity.


For perspective, chimps naturally live in groups of over 100 individuals. They are very social animals, and aren’t meant to be alone. Joao’s only companions were the yellow baboons in a nearby enclosure and the humans who cared for him.


Luckily, Joao was later moved to a sanctuary and where he still lives today, alongside other chimps once more.
He is between 73-78 years old.

2. Susie

Susie is 68 years old and lives at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan. According to her caretakers, Susie loves oranges and her blanket. She also loves pizza and Dr. Pepper, which she gets as a special treat on her birthday!

She made National Geographic’s list of old mothers when she gave birth in her late 50s. Unfortunately, the baby chimp wasn’t able to get the nourishment she needed from Susie and had to be transferred to a surrogate mother at Oklahoma zoo.

3. Gregoire

Gregoire lived from 1942-2008. At 66 years old, he was the oldest known chimpanzee in Africa at the time.
For most of his life, Gregoire lived at the Brazzaville Zoo. This zoo is known for poor animal welfare, and Gregoire was kept alone during his stay there. He was malnourished and had untreated skin infections.


He was then brought to the Tchimpounga Sanctuary in the Republic of Congo, where he spent his last 11 years.
Like Susie, he’s been featured in National Geographic—but Gregoire actually made the cover!

4. Auntie Rose

Not much is known about Auntie Rose. She was a wild chimpanzee who was said to be fertile until her death at 63—which is not uncommon for chimps, since they don’t go through menopause. Male chimps seem to prefer older females to mate with, and Auntie Rose had her fair share of suitors!

5. Garbo “Grandma”

Garbo, who went by the nickname of “Grandma,” passed away at nearly 62 years old. She was unfortunately born in a research facility, which she wouldn’t escape until she was 52 years old.


She was then transferred to Chimp Haven, a sanctuary in Louisiana that is said to be the world’s largest chimpanzee sanctuary.


Grandma was known for her love of caring for newborn chimps. In the sanctuary, she was given stuffed animals to carry around and “care for” to fulfill her nurturing instincts.

Do Chimpanzees Live Longer than Other Primates?

Chimpanzees don’t live as long as humans but they also live longer than close relatives like bonobos

iStock.com/JeannetteKatzir

Chimpanzees closest relatives are bonobos and humans.

Bonobos have a captive life expectancy of around 40 years, very similar to that of a chimp. Their life expectancy in the wild is unknown.

Humans, of course, live quite a bit longer than chimpanzees. The average human life expectancy is 73 years old, and the oldest human to ever live was 122 years old!

The Oldest Chimp in the Wild vs. Captivity

The oldest known chimps in captivity are Little Mama and Joao. Little Mama was in her late 70s or early 80s, while Joao is still alive and in his mid to late seventies.

The oldest wild chimp that we know of is Auntie Rose, who died at 63 years old.

Next Up…

Chimpanzee lifespan - older chimpanzee

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About the Author

My name is Rebecca and I've been a Professional Freelancer for almost a decade. I write SEO content and graphic design. When I'm not working, I'm obsessing over cats and pet rats.

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