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Berlin zoo’s middle-aged chimps ‘fired’

Berlin, Jan. 7 (Reuters): Aping the tactics of some big employers, the Berlin zoo is to send its middle-aged chimps into early retirement because they are too sluggish and set in their ways — and German animal lovers are up in arms about it.

Because they no longer amuse the public, the five chimpanzees are to go to China after attempts failed to find a new home for them in Europe. But the fate of Gusta, Lilly, Karel, Pedro and Soko has sparked outrage in the local media.

“It’s not a very nice thing to do,” said Hannelore Dietrich, 77, who has visited the ape house almost every day for the last 20 years. “They’re lovely animals even if they don’t hop around like they used to. It’s a crying shame.”

Wildlife activists criticised the zoo, saying it wants to bring in younger primates to attract visitors.

“They were cute when they were young, but now that they’re old they’re being heartlessly put out to pasture,” said Daniela Freyer, spokeswoman for animal rights group Pro Wildlife.

The 158-year zoo, the oldest in Germany and one of the best known in Europe, said it needs more room for its gorillas and pygmy chimps, which are more lively and have produced offspring recently. The zoo has a total of 342 apes.

Peter Rahn, scientific head of the zoo, rejected charges the animals were being “fired” because of their age. He said the Berlin chimps, between the ages of 14 and 24, were still fit for their ages and could live to 45 or 50.

“Certainly they sit in their corner or take it easy at times,” he said, admitting the zoo has spent years trying to find a new home for the chimps. “But it’s the same with humans who hit age 30. Children bound around with a more energy than middle aged people. It’s the same with the animals.”

Local protests against the move won backing from the Bild tabloid newspaper. “Leave the old apes here with us!” it said.

Werner Krause, a retired tram driver, said he was appalled that the chimps were being sacked before their time.

“It’s a rotten thing to do, getting rid of the older ones,” he said. “They should be able to find some room for them here.”

True to form, the chimps themselves failed to react to the furore, even at feeding time today, with 24-year-old Gusta dozing on a perch and 22-year-old Karel lying inert nearby.

“It's a sad story,” said bus driver Rainer Seibt, 59. “But on the other hand if the chimps just sit around doing nothing, that’s not good either. We’ve all got to earn our keep.”

Lions killed three people in Malawi after escaping through a damaged fence at a game reserve in the southern African country, police and wildlife officials said yesterday.

A police spokesman said the lions dragged a tobacco estate worker into the bush on Friday. Villagers were only able to recover a broken skull and a piece of the man's arm.

“It was a pathetic sight,” the spokesman said, adding that a 40-year-old woman from the same district had been killed by the lions when she left her hut during the night to go to the toilet. Only her head was found.

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