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Did Tarzan's Cheetah really die?

Film historians and animal experts are refuting the claim that it was Tarzan's chimpanzee friend, Cheetah, who died on Wednesday.
Tarzan chimp dead 12 28 2011Enlarge
Cheetah, the chimp who stared in Tarzan films, died at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida. He died aged 80 after kidney failure, the sanctuary said. (Suncoast Primate Sanctuary/Facebook)

Film historians and animal experts are refuting the claim that it was Tarzan's chimpanzee friend, Cheetah, who died on Wednesday.  

An animal sanctuary in Florida announced the death of a chimpanzee it said was Cheetah, the famous animal star who appeared in "Tarzan" films in the early 1930s, on Wednesday.

But almost immediately after the announcement, people began calling the claim into question.

The outreach director at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, said that Cheetah was acquired by her parents from Johnny Weissmuller, the actor who played Tarzan in the hit 1930s films, but there was no documentation of the chimp's identity.  

According to the Associated Press, Cobb claimed the documentation was destroyed in a 1995 fire. 

The Celebrity Cafe reported that several film historians are challenging the idea that the chimp who died was indeed the same one in the "Tarzan" movies.  

"The idea that this Cheetah could have appeared in these films, had this long career, and now had this wonderful retirement is ridiculous," R.D. Rosen, a writer who had debunked another claim in 2008, told USA Today.

Steve Ross, assistant director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservations of Apes at the Lincoln Park zoo in Chicago, explained that it's pretty unlikely that a chimp could be 80 years old. 

“To live into your 70s is really pushing the limits of chimp biology,” Dr. Ross said in a telephone interview to The New York Times. “Eighty is tough to swallow.”

According to the Daily Telegraph, Eve Golden, a film history, also believed the claim was an urban legend.

"Unless they have the chimpanzee's acting union card it seems impossible to prove," she said.

Golden also explained that it's close to impossible to tell if the chimp was really Cheetah from movie stills.

"All chimps basically look like George Burns to me," Golden said, The Times reported.

More from GlobalPost: On Location: Rescuing orphaned chimpanzees

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