Entebbe. Every year, at every birthday, ceremonial elegance and splendour welcomed Zakayo, Uganda’s oldest but light-hearted chimpanzee.
He would strut out of his cage, carefree, happy and light-hearted to return the fun, and high spirits of his fans.
But on Saturday, there was no more enjoyment and amusement to welcome Zakayo, and in place of the usual playfulness hung a sombre mood.
The feeling of sadness seeped through Budongo Forest, the home of rescued captive chimpanzees at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (Uwec) in Entebbe, south of Kampala.
Fans and wildlife conservationists thronged the lake side zoo to send off Zakayo, 54, the oldest known captive chimpanzee in East Africa, who succumbed to chronic gastroenteritis on Thursday. For nearly a decade, old Zakayo had remained a household name and most popular inhabitant of the zoo, and the most popular attraction.
And in his hey days, Zakayo was exposed to smoking cigars, expertly peeling and munching bananas, and taking liquor often offered by hundreds of visitors and fans, in return for his acrobatic antics and performances. And from near and far, his fans trooped in to Uwec to watch the spectacle that was Zakayo.
But these were now no more, but turned into a throng of mourners, as the adorable and dominant male chimpanzee passed on Thursday.
And in true tribute to his qualities as his funeral service, Ms Evelyn Nakayerise, a wildlife conservationist, eulogosed Zakayo as a great leader who took care of his young ones and loved visitors.
“He was really amazing the way he handled life and the life of the fellow chimps; it was really amazing. We’re in a very trying moment in the conservation sector,” she said.
Mr Lawrence George Opio, a veterinary doctor at Uwec, said they tried all preventive and curable treatment to save 54-year-old Zakayo for the last 18 days, but in vain.
“We started medicating him orally and he took his medication willingly, and we were optimistic until he refused to take his medicine that included a combination of ultra-vitamins, and antibiotics. In the end, we had no option but to immobilize him,” he said.
“It’s so unfortunate that on April 26, in the late hours, Zakayo’s respiratory organs started to fail and we had to resuscitate him for more about 2 hours, but he passed on at 5:06pm,” Mr Opio told the throng of Zakayo’s fans.
Mr David Musinguzi, the Uwec executive director, said though they were in a trying moment, they were happy to see a befitting Zakayo send-off for Zakayo.
He said Zakayo’s body would be preserved so that his legacy lives on.