HONORING CHARLIE 1970 ~ 2009 is a collaborative painting by Calley O’Neill, Rama the artist elephant from the Oregon Zoo and keeper Jeb Barsh. It is one of a series of thirty-six paintings in RAMA, AMBASSADOR FOR THE ENDANGERED ONES, a groundbreaking exhibition to awaken consciousness and action to protect endangered species and restore their habitats… the Earth.
This painting honors the beloved chimpanzee Charlie, “Prince of the Zoo”. who lived and thrived at the Oregon Zoo with four females from 1972 until 2009.
Charlie stood 5’ tall and packed 160 pounds of solid muscle with the strength of five strong men. He was sensitive and powerful, territorial and thoughtful, a peacemaker and a chief. Together with his beloved senior keeper and friend, Dave Thomas, and a family of outstanding keepers and volunteers who loved him dearly, he lived at the zoo for 35 years.
Thomas, an immensely knowledgeable keeper devoted to Charlie, enjoyed a unique relationship most people only dream about. Saved from the bushmeat trade, Charlie went on to touch the lives of millions of people and animals. Sharing over 90% of our DNA, Charlie seemed so human that he never failed to amaze and inspire his visitors.
According to the Oregon Zoo, Charlie was born in the forest along the Liberia and Republic of Sierra Leone border in West Africa around 1970. One day, Edward Miller, an American mining contractor saw villagers walking around town with a baby chimp. Aware of the prevalent bushmeat trade, Miller realized that the chimp’s mother had almost certainly been killed and the infant was likely bound for the cooking pot as bushmeat. Immediately, Miller offered to buy the chimp, no questions asked, and named him after the mining camp's radio call letters.
Charlie returned to the United States to live for a year with Miller and his three young sons before being given to the Washington Park Zoo about a year later. He moved in with four females, Delilah, Leah and their mother Coco, who at 57 is the zoo’s oldest resident and Chloe, a former circus performer.
The zoo made the Miller family and Charlie a promise - a promise that has been kept and extended to the other zoo residents. Starting with Charlie, the keepers began to develop an enrichment program. At the outset, the program focused on human/animal interaction, including American Sign Language; play, training and contact with animals.
After years of experimentation, enrichment strategies shifted away from human interaction in order to preserve the animals’ wild nature. Now, enrichment encourages natural behaviors through training, exercise and toys. Enrichment gives choice, change and control to the animals. By engaging all their senses, the animals receive mental and physical stimulation. Although the focus of enrichment continually evolves, it all began with Charlie at the Oregon Zoo. Interaction with Charlie and the other chimps at the zoo started the careers of many people dedicated to developing enrichment programs.
This painting is dedicated to Charlie and to all the remaining chimps in the world and all their descendants that they may live for all time. For all who protect chimps, such as Dave, Asaba and the pioneering elders such as Jane Goodall, who fell in love with Charlie long ago ~ our great gratitude and appreciation.
The painting reference photography is by Michael Durham, Oregon Zoo photographer extraordinaire and Calley O’Neill. This giclee was printed by Paul McCormick in Hawai’i, and inspected, signed and numbered by the human artist.