Experts question Cheetah death report

Dec. 29, 2011 at 10:24 AM

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Animal experts are voicing their doubts that Cheetah, the chimpanzee who recently died in a Florida animal sanctuary, could have starred in early Tarzan films.

Debbie Cobb, outreach director of the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary, said Cheetah died last week of kidney failure at age 80.

Cobb said the chimp co-starred in the Hollywood adventure flicks in the early 1930s opposite Johnny Weissmuller and came to the sanctuary from the actor's estate in 1960.

However, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times said more than a dozen chimps played the role of Cheetah throughout the Tarzan film franchise and animal experts are saying it is unlikely the Florida primate is one of them, since it is rare for chimps to live past their 50s in captivity.

"You do understand that this chimpanzee could not possibly have been in these Tarzan films," R.D. Rosen -- author of a 2008 Washington Post article which debunked the authenticity of a different chimpanzee described as the original Cheetah -- told USA Today.

"The idea that this Cheetah could have appeared in these films, had this long career, and now had this wonderful retirement is ridiculous," Rosen added.

Steve Ross, the chimpanzee expert at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, agreed with Rosen, noting the oldest chimp on record is in her early 70s.

"To say 80 is really pushing it. In this record, there has never been a chimp that has lived that long," Ross told USA Today. "I'd paint myself as skeptical in this case."

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