After taking up residence at the Long Island Aquarium in 2004, a Japanese snow monkey named Peeko quickly won over the hearts of visitors. “He loved to sit right next to the habitat windows,” Candyce Paparo, director of animal training at the aquarium, recalled Thursday. “He loved to look and was interested in whatever you wanted to show him. Stuff they had in their purse, pictures, books, videos on your cellphone.”
Aquarium staff have been mourning the recent loss of the 23-year-old primate and his younger, more energetic grooming pal, 10-year-old Ozzie.
Officials at the aquarium said both animals died within a week of one another due to separate medical conditions.
Peeko, the alpha of the pack of four, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, for which there is no cure. He was within weeks of turning 24, Ms. Paparo said.
The average lifespan for the animals in captivity is about 27 years old. “Twenty-four is a very long and good life for a snow monkey in human care. We’re really happy that he was able to be with us for that long,” she said.
Ozzie was remembered for his spunky personality. His caretakers became concerned after noticing some behavioral changes and a medical exam revealed he had a tumor in his stomach. “We were pretty hopeful that we’d be able to remove it,” Ms. Paparo said.
Ultimately, Ozzie died of post-operative complications, a sudden blow to caretakers who were already grieving.
“It’s a tough part of our job,” Ms. Paparo said. “My staff works with them five days a week. We spend more time with our animals and team here than we do at home with our families most of the time. You get used to having them be a part of your daily life.”
Visitors can still see Jorako, 23, and Zeppelin, 12, at the aquarium. “They’re fantastic animal ambassadors for our guests to get up close, see and learn about them,” Ms. Paparo said.
According to the aquarium website, Japanese snow monkeys, or macaques, are the world’s northernmost species of nonhuman primate.
They are native to the lowland and mountain forests of Japan and enjoy playing in the snow and spending time in hot springs. They feed on fruits, seeds, leaves, vegetables, fungi, insects and soil and have even been observed cleaning off their food in the wild.
On social media, aquarium visitors and former employees have been sharing photos and memories of Peeko and Ozzie and offering condolences to their caretakers. “Our guests have been sending their love to us and it’s been really heartwarming,” Ms. Paparo said. “It’s helped the team to see that outpouring of support and sharing in grief.”