Belfast Zoo’s ‘chilled-out’ chimp Lizzie set to mark milestone 50th birthday

The matriarch of Belfast Zoo’s chimpanzee is set to celebrate a very special birthday next week as she turns 50.

izzie is one of Bellevue’s oldest residents and zoo manager Alyn Cairns has been by her side for 30 years, ever since he began working as a junior zoo keeper.

“I shouldn’t have any favourites, but I have a real soft spot for Lizzie,” he said.

“We have a great bond; I get a great reaction when I go and spend time with her.

“She’s our smartest monkey and I make it a point to always say hello to her — she’s a very laid-back chimp.”

Born in Belfast in 1972 to parents Josie and Tommy, Lizzie moved into the £1million monkey house when it was opened in 1991 by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.

A success story of the zoo’s breeding program, she shares her home with six other chimpanzees, including daughters Kim and Lucy, and granddaughters Phoebe and Pixie. Alyn said Lizzie was a great leader of her troops and kept them under control.

“Chimpanzees are very good at breaking things,” he explained.

“They have big teeth and are four or five times stronger than humans, which makes them very dangerous.

“Once they broke a pole from the climbing frame and threw it around.

“All I had to do was point it, and Lizzie walked over to them, gave them a look like she was going to say, ‘Come on, boys,’ and Flicka just gave it.

“I gave Lizzie a treat (for that). Salad is her favorite food, but she was smart enough to know she deserved more and wouldn’t take it.

“She ended up with a chocolate chip cookie.”


Lizzie the chimpanzee at Belfast Zoo, left, who has turned 50, hides from the rain. Picture by Peter Morrison

The beasts’ strength means Alyn and Lizzie are often separated by a thick glass window when they get together, but a mesh area at the back allows them to get closer.

“She sticks her tongue out and loves being tickled,” he revealed.

“She also loves to count my fills.”

She is still recovering from a massive stroke that left her numb on one side of her body in 2020, is making good progress with her rehabilitation and has regained full mobility.

In recognition of their commitment to helping Lizzie get back to her old self, the ape team in Belfast were honored with a bronze award from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums last year.

Meanwhile, Lizzie was busy unwrapping presents ahead of her big party on Wednesday.

Designed to stimulate her brain, the birthday boxes are packed with her favorite salad and ripe bananas.

“They pack a lot of straw and smaller items like sunflower seeds and peanuts that she has to search for,” Alyn explained.

“She’s still a bit slow – like most of us at 50 – but the gifts will help her.”

Lizzie’s biggest fan thinks he’s her best friend too.

“Even though she can’t respond, I feel like she understands everything I say and I feel like I understand everything she says,” Alyn added.

“She has a calming presence and brings balance to the enclosure that also includes alpha male Andy.”

From Wednesday all eyes will be on Gorilla Deliah, who will soon be celebrating her 60th birthday. Belfast Zoo’s ‘chilled-out’ chimp Lizzie set to mark milestone 50th birthday

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