Cheetah to reunite with Tarzan in Heaven

December 29, 2011 • 5:28 am

UPDATE:  I now find the claim that this chip was Cheetah questionable based on studies of the longevity of captive chimps.


I can’t believe that Cheetah, the chimp who was in Tarzan movies in the thirties (remember Johnny Weissmuller?) was still alive.  At least he was until last week.  The early Tarzan movies were a staple of my youth, and Weissmuller (he’d surely have been renamed if he played Tarzan these days) died in 1984 at the age of eighty.

But chimps in captivity can attain a ripe old age, even living into their eighties.  And Cheetah did: according to CNN, he died of kidney failure last Wednesday in a Florida primate sanctuary at the age of about eighty.  Well, most of you weren’t alive then, and even so wouldn’t care much about the demise of a superannuated chimp.  But the article is amusing for several things:

Cheetah was known for his ability to stand up and walk like a person, sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest told WFLA.

Another distinguishing characteristic: “When he didn’t like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them,” Priest said. “He could get you at 30 feet with bars in between.”

Well, poop-flinging isn’t all that rare among captive primates, but this is:

“I grew up watching Tarzan and Cheetah from a boy,” a man identifying himself as Thomas from England wrote on the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary’s website. “God bless you Cheetah. Now you and Tarzan are together again.”

Let us hope that not only that Animal Heaven and Human Heaven are together (assuming chimps have souls), but that chimps don’t defecate up there.

But we know Cheetah will go to Heaven because of this:

Cobb [Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary outreach director] recalled Cheetah as an outgoing chimp who loved finger painting and watching football and who was soothed by Christian music, the station said.

I won’t make any cracks about those species that can appreciate Christian music.

But it turns out that Doc Bill, one of our readers and owner of Kink the Cat®,  actually got one of Cheetah’s paintings by making a donation to the sanctuary.  He sent me a picture of it, and really, it’s not bad.

Cheetah (l) with Boy, Tarzan, and Jane

I always wondered how Tarzan managed a daily shave in the jungle.

h/t: Sigmund, Doc Bill

23 thoughts on “Cheetah to reunite with Tarzan in Heaven

      1. Wasn’t that the derivation of the derogatory epithet that Virginia’s dimwitted former junior Republican Senator (and erstwhile jock manqué) hurled at the Indian-American student-videographer, while “welcom[ing him] to America” at a campaign rally before a crowd of his magnanimous redneck constituents?

  1. “When he didn’t like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them”

    Took the kid and little friend to visit the gorillas at the Franklin Park Zoo. While waiting for feeding time, one gorilla takes a huge dump right in front of us, to the great delight of the kids. We start joking that at least gorillas don’t eat their poop like rabbits do. On cue, another gorilla comes over, picks up the turds and eats them right in front of us, visibly masticating the (leaf and vegetable-based) shit, to the extreme delight of the kids. Zookeeper says this behavior is rare in the wild, not uncommon in captivity. Kid still talks about it at every chance.

    Also: Evidence Casts Doubt On Claimed ‘Cheetah’ Death

    And this RadioLab show on the haunting tragedy of Lucy Temerlin is a must-listen: Lucy

    1. Great story! A former coworker told me a story of how her young nephew once consumed the contents of his diaper. Whether true or not, it is certainly plausible.

    2. From some TV nature program I saw, in the wild a momma elephant will consume the droppings of her offspring, as it still contains significant nutrients, as the offspring’s digestive system takes a while to get to peak efficiency.

  2. As a zookeeper in the Ape House of the Bronx Zoo I saw several poop-eating and throwing apes, including chimps ,gorillas, and orangutans. Opinions are they might be instinctively recycling digestive bacteria as do some marsupial babies that eat their mom’s poop. I have also seen canines eat poop, theirs and horse poop in the wild.

  3. Judging from the family snapshot, I’d be thinking experiments in crossbreeding may have occurred.

    And I’m thinking some of the paint in the painting may not be paint.

    Just sayin’.

    1. According to family lore, I used the contents of my diaper to paint a mural on the bedroom wall. After this creative endeavor was finished, I celebrated by putting the still-full diaper on my head.

      chimp:human:chimp:human-minimal differences

  4. According to Wikipedia there were numerous chimps who played Cheeta, and the original Tarzan show ended in 1968, so he’d only have to be around 50.

    1. I was going to suggest that. I’ve personally seen that adult chimpanzees are so large that many zoo visitors think they’re gorillas. They’re definitely much larger that the chimp in the picture above, who appears to be young and not yet fully grown. I remember that in at least some of the Tarzan movies “Cheeta” was even smaller than the chimp in the picture; so small that he could be held like a human baby; so they must have used very young chimps. That would mean that over time they would have had to bring in replacements as the chimps grew older. In fact, due to their varying behavior and talents, they may have even used more than one “Cheeta” to make each individual movie.

      1. Makes sense. A young chimp would be a lot safer and easier to control, as well.

        I certainly wouldn’t want to be on set with an adult chimp if it had woken up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.

  5. ” . . . Johnny Weissmuller . . . surely have been renamed if he played Tarzan these days.”

    Perhaps, perhaps not, re: Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe Johnny Weisz? (re: Rachel Weisz.) Also, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch seems to be making his mark as an actor.

    1. When he began acting, Weissmuller was already a world famous swimmer, having won gold medals at two Olympics and having held dozens of world records. I suspect the Tarzan producers were trading in part on his already well-known name.

      As for Arnold Schwarzenegger, he very briefly used the pseudonym “Arnold Strong.” For his first film only, I believe.

    2. “. . . surely have been renamed if he played Tarzan these days”

      They did change his name: from Peter Weissmuller …. rim shot! (They also dropped the umlaut from above the “u”.)

      As philokgb suggests, MGM undoubtedly kept his name to capitalize on all those Olympic medals he won in the Twenties. At one time JW held 67 swimming world records. (It’s interesting to note that within a few decades, his record times were routinely being bested by women swimmers.)

      If not for his sports fame, it would have been even more likely that Weissmuller would have been pushed to change his name under Hollywood’s old studio system. It was common for the studios to change an up-and-coming star’s name to something WASPy right through the Fifties (when “Tony Curtis” shed the name Bernie Schwartz, and “Kirk Douglas,” Issy Danielovitch.)

  6. I don’t know if Cheetah was involved in this, but I understand that Tarzan and Jane were swingers. Which is understandable when one thinks about the circles that they traveled in.

  7. Well, I don’t know who this Rosen guy is but I wish he’d spend his time investigating something worthwhile like the Disco Tute and their diabolical plot to breed attack gerbils.

    However, I used my Google Fu to determine that Rosen also authored, “Santa Claus: Jolly Old Elf or Big Fat Myth”

    Shameful, I say. Kink says that if this Rosen guy comes to our house I’m welcome to throw poo at him from the litter box.

    Thanks, Kink!

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