Originally created 04/12/06

'Tarzan' chimp celebrates 74th birthday



PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - Cheeta the chimp, star of a dozen "Tarzan" movies in the 1930s and 1940s, celebrated his 74th birthday with sugar-free cake.

Although healthy and active, Cheeta is diabetic.

"He had a good time. The party went real good," said keeper Dan Westfall, operator of the primate sanctuary Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes - or CHEETA.

Representatives from a Spanish film festival also showed up for Sunday's party to present Cheeta with the first award of his career - an International Comedy Film Festival of Peniscola prize.

Cheeta has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest chimp. Chimps rarely live past the age of 40 in the wild, but can reach 60 in captivity.

The graying, 150-pound Cheeta, one of six primates at the desert sanctuary 110 miles east of Los Angeles, is very active and "he still has every tooth in his head," Westfall said Monday.

Asked about his typical day, Westfall said one of Cheeta's favorite activities is riding around with him in the car. He also likes to paint, what Westfall calls "ape-stract" pieces that are sold to raise money for the nonprofit sanctuary.

Westfall adopted Cheeta in 1992 from his uncle Tony Gentry, an animal trainer who worked in Hollywood and obtained Cheeta from Africa in the 1930s.

On The Net:

www.cheetathechimp.org