Our Stories

Oregonian Praises Alumnus Zoo Keeper

Dave Thomas '71 was headed for a career in teaching, but got waylaid by a chimp named Delilah. The psychology graduate signed on at the Oregon Zoo as a volunteer, and spent his first shift holding the six-month-old chimp. On the bus ride home, covered in baby primate poo, Thomas was overwhelmed by the experience of connecting with an animal that was so human-like. His career path took a 180-degree turn.

Thomas was recently featured in a three-page Oregonian article that introduced Charlie, the reigning chimpanzee celebrity at the zoo, and Thomas, the senior primate keeper. Thirty-five years after his first volunteer stint, Thomas is one of the longest-tenured primate keepers in the nation.

Humans and chimps share about 96 percent of the same DNA, and their intelligence, expressions and interactions strike a deep chord with many people. Many chimps at the primate exhibit were formerly abandoned, and subsequently rescued by the zoo. "We'd like to have Charlie still in the wild," Thomas says in the article, "but his mother was killed and he was being sold for bushmeat."

According to The Oregonian, Thomas is greatly admired for his dedication and knowledge. When he is away from work, long faces are on display in the primate exhibit. Apparently, the affection is returned. Thomas says he is "heavenly blessed by these animals."

Read the entire feature story.