Sacramento Zoo Grieves the Loss of Elderly Chimpanzee and the Loss of Oldest Known Captive Spotted Hyena

The Sacramento Zoo is saddened by the loss of Josie, the matriarch of the Zoo’s chimpanzee troop and Brownie, the oldest known captive spotted Hyena.

At the estimated age of 48, Zoo veterinarians were treating Josie for a variety of age-related illnesses.  Her condition worsened and after thoughtful discussion between animal care, Zoo administrators and veterinary staff, made the decision to euthanize Josie Thursday, Nov. 8 to prevent her suffering.

Brownie, as Zoo staff affectionately called her, had been under treatment for a variety of age-related illnesses. She passed away in her sleep on Monday, Nov. 12

Veterinarians and keepers had been keeping an eye on Brownie because of her age, but did not notice anything unusual. She spent much of the afternoon sunning in her exhibit, ate her dinner and went to sleep. Brownie surpassed all expectations, living to the age of 28.


“You can’t imagine how tough this decision was,” to euthanize Josie, Zoo Director Mary Healy said. “On one hand you have an amazing chimpanzee that has been a very special part of the Zoo for 26 years. On the other hand you see a friend who has been suffering and you have done everything feasible to make her better.”

As a longtime and charismatic member of the Sacramento community Josie will be missed.

A civilian in Fremont acquired her from Africa in the early 1960’s. A few years later she was donated to the Fresno Zoo, and then moved to Micke Grove Zoo and eventually joined the Sacramento Zoo’s group of chimpanzees in 1986.

Josie loved people watching and had a special fondness for interacting with young children. She would often raise her hand to the glass as a greeting to toddlers and babies and then kept an eye on them while they toured the chimpanzee area. Josie also loved to paint and often went through phases with the colors she used.

Josie was an integral part of the dynamic chimp group, and a stabilizing personality among the chimps. Josie will be greatly missed by Zoo staff, the other chimps and visitors alike and will always hold a special place in their hearts.

Chimpanzees come from the central belt of Africa where they live in forests, dry woodland savannas and tropical rain forests. In the wild they live up to 40 years and can live up to 60 years in captivity. They are endangered with their main predators being leopards, lions and humans.

By calling 808-8815, you can make donations in Josie’s memory. All donations will go towards the care of the other chimpanzees at the Sacramento Zoo.


Brownie was born in Kenya and shortly after was brought to U.C. Berkeley as part of a research program. She moved to the Sacramento Zoo in 1995 with a female companion from U.C. Berkley who passed away in 2006. Brownie was the oldest Spotted Hyena known in captivity in the United States.

Hyenas are matriarchal and very hierarchal, making it difficult to introduce new companions without significant stress. In order to fulfill her social needs, keepers spent a lot of time interacting with Brownie through protected contact training programs. Keepers also monitored closely her weight and became very creative in food variety and presentation.

While at U.C. Berkley, artists from Disney studied Brownie and her sister as models for Disney’s movie “The Lion King.”

“Because hyenas are highly nocturnal, it was always a special treat for visitors when they got to see Brownie,” said Harrison Edell, General Curator at the Sacramento Zoo. “Brownie was a unique individual who lived a long life; her passing deeply affects visitors, volunteers and staff alike,” Edell said.

Spotted Hyenas, also known as Laughing Hyenas, come from African grasslands, savannas and plains. They live in matriarchal clans and are highly territorial. They have many vocal behaviors ranging from whoops, barks, groans, yells, grunts and whines. In the wild they live 10-12 years while in captivity they can live from 20-25 years.

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