Last week, the non-human primate community received the sad news that Dr. Steve Ross had suddenly passed away.
Steve was the director of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes and the board chair of Chimp Haven for more than a decade. As a primatologist who was unabashedly focused on chimpanzees, he bridged the primate zoo, sanctuary, and observational/academic research communities in a way that no one else has, bringing everyone together to improve the welfare of chimpanzees.
Steve was the brainchild and leader behind an ambitious project to identify every captive chimpanzee in the United States and keep this information public and regularly updated as part of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCare.
He aided in the rehoming of many chimpanzees to zoos and sanctuaries from undesirable situations including chimpanzees within the entertainment industry and in private ownership. His loss is a huge blow to chimpanzee advocacy and a personal loss for countless people who were influenced by his academic and professional work and his passion, including many students who considered him a mentor. It is no exaggeration to say that anytime any question came up regarding a chimpanzee in captivity, I would immediately think to ask Steve.
Steve visited Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest on several occasions over the years, including a visit that coincided with a speaking engagement at Central Washington University in 2017 that I mentioned on the blog. He was a source of support to us during both difficult and joyful times at the sanctuary.
Not surprisingly, Steve was a member of Burrito’s unofficial fan club.
I thought about him often yesterday as I was watching the newly integrated groups of chimpanzees interact. I have been working alongside Steve on the placement committee for the Chimpanzees in Need campaign to find homes for all of the Wildlife Waystation chimpanzees, and we had exchanged impressions and updates over the last year about various chimpanzees we had met and fallen in love with at Wildlife Waystation. If he had been alive, I would have texted him the good news of the integration. I have no doubt he would have responded with enthusiastic words of encouragement, and that it would have been among dozens of encouraging texts and emails he sent to others that day.
We are so saddened by his loss, and our hearts go out to those he was closest to in this world. His legacy is large and far-reaching and he leaves behind an immeasurable void.