Beloved Zoo Knoxville chimpanzee dies following cancer diagnosis

(Zoo Knoxville)

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A beloved chimpanzee at Zoo Knoxville passed away Tuesday afternoon after a recent diagnosis of cancer.

Debbie had been the matriarch of Zoo Knoxville’s chimpanzee troop for more than 40 years. She was diagnosed recently with breast cancer and renal failure and her health deteriorated quickly over the past few days.

The decision to humanely euthanize her was made Tuesday afternoon after her caretakers and the vet team determined the quality of her life had reached a turning point.

Debbie came to the zoo in 1976 at five years old. A former pet, she had become too dangerous and unruly to remain in a human household. Zoo Knoxville says while chimpanzees raised by humans often have a hard time integrating with other chimps. Debbie quickly learned from the others and thrived. She eventually became the leader of the troop, a role usually held by males.

“Debbie taught us so many things about chimpanzees.  Her legacy as an ambassador for her species lies in her own story about the illicit pet trade and the ethics of isolating chimpanzees for entertainment,” said Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa New.  “For me personally, Debbie was the most important and influential animal I have ever known.  But Debbie was more than just a teacher.  She was my friend.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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