The Secret Life of the Zoo 02/08/2012

Boris the chimpanzee

A rare, West African chimpanzee by the name of Boris, arrived at Chester Zoo in 1969 after spending the first three years of his life living with a family in New York.

Boris was raised in a Manhattan apartment after American writer Hester Mundis saw him – at only a few months old – covered in a blanket of shredded newspaper in the window of a New York pet shop.

It took Hester only a few seconds after holding him to decide that she wanted to give Boris a better life; so took him home to live with her and her eight-year-old son, where he was raised for nearly three years. Shortly after Hester heard the news that she was expecting her second child, it was decided that Boris deserved a permanent home, with other chimps. She then started her search for the best place for him to live.

Boris in New York, 1967
Boris in New York, 1967
Boris in 1968
Boris in 1968

After months of deliberation and research, Hester heard about a zoo in the UK ‘without bars’ and decided to visit taking Boris with her. Here she met with Chester Zoo founder, George Mottershead who assured her that Boris would have a happy home at the zoo.

Hester told us more:

I rescued Boris from a pet shop when he was a baby and raised him for nearly three years in our New York apartment - along with my son and our German shepherd dog.

When I became pregnant with my second child, I realised that three-year-old Boris was getting too large and strong to stay with us. As heart-breaking as it was to part with him, I was determined to ensure him the best life possible for the rest of his life. And from all the zoos around the world, I chose Chester as the one to do that. And it has!

Every time I've visited, I'm reminded how grateful I am to everyone at the Chester Zoo for all they've done and continue to do for my ‘son’. And I will always be indebted to Mr Mottershead for his vision and providing Boris with such a wonderful world in which to live his life.

Although it wasn’t apparent how Boris had arrived in a pet shop at such a young age, it was later found out that he had a difficult start at life. After spending a few months living with Hester, she thought Boris had a boil on his head and after visiting the vets, they discovered that the lump was in fact part of a shotgun shell. It was at that moment that they realised how Boris had been captured so shortly after being born. It’s believed that his mother was shot and that he was pulled from her body, before somehow making his way to New York in the pet trade.

Boris the chimp
Boris the chimp - Chester Zoo
Boris in Chester Zoo

In 2015, Hester and her son flew to Chester to see Boris and to catch up with our Chester Zoo keepers about how he’s doing with the rest of the troop at the zoo.

West African chimpanzees are one of the world’s rarest sub-species of chimpanzee and are classed as endangered to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with approximately 21,000 remaining in the wild.

We’re working to protect the last viable population of the endangered chimpanzees in Gashaka Gumti National park in Nigeria. Read more about our conservation work in Nigeria here.