This past November, a chimpanzee was reunited with her newborn after two days apart. Resident of the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, Mahale gave birth through an emergency C-section when the labor stopped progressing naturally. The baby, named Kucheza, couldn’t breathe very well on his own, so the medical team kept him in the hospital for almost two days. Finally, the chimp and her newborn were reunited in a heartwarming video that garnered over 17 million views. However, Kucheza passed away after only five weeks of life.
Mahale Couldn’t Let Go…
“Friends, our hearts are broken today,” said the Facebook page of the Sedgwick County Zoo “…Keepers found Kucheza deceased, and cradled in his mother Mahale’s arms, when they arrived at the Zoo this morning.” They explained that Mahale wasn’t ready to let go of her baby, so they couldn’t assess the cause of death right away.
“Mahale’s love for Kucheza was and will continue to be felt by billions of people around the world,” the post continued. “In his few short weeks of life, Kucheza brought joy and light to so many, and sparked an opportunity to educate the world about chimpanzees, the dangers they face in the wild, and most importantly — why we should care.” They hope that Kucheza’s story will “inspire respect and conservation” for the rest of his species. 
The video depicting their reunion showed Mahale entering the enclosure where Kucheza lay swaddled in blankets. She hesitantly approaches him, until he lifted a tiny arm toward her. Immediately, she grabbed him and hugged him close to her chest. That motion captured the hearts of people around the world. Zoo communication director Jennica King told Fox News called the clip “one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen. She knows it’s her baby laying there. The baby is being very still. She’s looking at it like, ‘What’s going on?’ And once he moves, you see the relief and the love and just, oh my gosh, it’s just amazing.” 
The Sedgwick Zoo said, “Mahale is an exceptional mother, and it’s clear how much she loves her baby.” Kucheza mean ‘play’ in Swahili, and he is Mahale’s third child. The zoo said the two have been inseparable since their beautiful reunion, which makes the baby’s death even more heartbreaking. Another adorable video of the pair went viral shortly before the sudden loss.
Kucheza’s Cause of Death
Eventually, the zoo’s team was able to investigate and Kucheza’s necropsy showed that the cause of death was head trauma. “Our team is still trying to make sense of it all, but the reality of the situation is that we will simply never know what led to Kucheza’s injuries. Based on the family social dynamics and what we know of each individual chimp, we believe that whatever happened that night was an accident.”
They added that the injuries did not align with infanticide, an intentional killing that happens in chimp populations in the wild; the family had lived without any incidents for two weeks. “Kucheza left a huge imprint on our world in his short time here, and we thank each one of our friends for your love and support during this very difficult time.”
The zoo’s Facebook also gave updates on the grieving family. They explained that the chimps had been “quiet and subdued” for some time, but they slowly began to greet their keepers again. One of the chimps gave Mahale extra attention and TLC. “They are all staying close together and nesting near each other. We have been utilizing extra enrichment to keep the family distracted and provide comfort as they heal and process the week’s events.”
On January 6, they gave the most recent update on the chimps. “Mahale is doing very well with the rest of the family taking good care of her. With temperatures in the 50s recently, they’ve been spending lots of time outside soaking up the sunshine.” 
Chimpanzees, An Endangered Species
Chimps are highly social animals who care for their babies for years. They are extremely intelligent creatures with individual personalities. They live in communities and groom each other as an act of bonding. Unfortunately, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has declared the chimpanzee an endangered species.
Humans are moving into the chimps’ habitats, demolishing their terrain and food supply for the sake of agriculture, logging, mining, oil extraction, and highways. Also, bushmeat hunters target chimps and sell their young into the illegal pet trade. In the meantime, chimps are susceptible to infectious disease, like Ebola, which has killed many of them since the 1980s. 
Awareness is key to the long-term survival of chimpanzees as organizations work to protect their habitats and end the illegal hunts and trades. For those who want to do something in honor of Kucheza, the zoo recommended people donate to Chimp SAFE, a conservation organization with the mission to save the endangered species from extinction.
- “Baby Chimp Who Melted His Mother’s Heart In Viral Video Is Found Dead In Her Arms.” HuffPost. Ron Dicker. December 23, 2022
- “The heartwarming moment a chimpanzee mom is reunited with her newborn captured on video.” Insider. Bethany Dawson. November 20, 2022
- “Sedgwick County Zoo.” Facebook.
- “Chimpanzee.” National Geographic.