'Cookie,' the world's oldest living cockatoo, dies at 83 at Brookfield Zoo

- Chicago Zoological Society staff are mourning the loss of one of Brookfield Zoo’s most beloved and well-known animals: Cookie, an 83-year-old Major Mitchell’s cockatoo. The popular bird, who was certified by Guinness World Records as the oldest living parrot in 2014, died on August 27.

“On Saturday morning, Cookie suffered a very abrupt decline in his health, prompting the veterinary and animal care staff to make the extremely difficult decision that it was time to peacefully euthanize him,” said Michael Adkesson, DVM, Dipl. ACZM, vice president of clinical medicine for the Society.

Cookie was the oldest resident at the zoo and the only remaining member of the original animal collection, which dates back to 1934, when the zoo first opened. Cookie, who lived well beyond the life expectancy for his species, arrived at Brookfield Zoo at the age of 1 from Taronga Zoo in Australia.

“This is a sad day for staff, as well as for the many guests who came to Brookfield Zoo specifically to see Cookie,” said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society. “He was a very charismatic animal and definitely had a loyal fan base. He will be greatly missed.”

"To me, when I was a kid, he was a legend. He's still a legend,” said Tim Snyder. "I was a little kid. I grew up in Chicago. I came to the zoo to see Cookie."

Over the years, Cookie’s popularity grew and he touched many people’s lives. He received many cards, letters, toys, and pictures from admirers around the world. Those admirers include Dr. Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji, a holy man and healer from Mysore, India, who founded a parrot sanctuary there. When they heard about Cookie, His Holiness and his entourage made a pilgrimage to Brookfield. There appeared to be an immediate connection between Swamiji and Cookie. In addition, in 2008, local artist Mr. Nicky wrote a song for Cookie to honor his 75th birthday.

Brookfield Zoo began holding an annual birthday party for Cookie. His celebrations were held indoors, where he resided in the zoo’s Reptiles and Birds (formerly known as Perching Bird House), but due to the number of guests who attended, the event was moved outdoors to accommodate everyone. Animal care staff would bring Cookie outside, where he would make a grand entrance. Then his fans would sing “Happy Birthday to You” and sign his gigantic birthday card. It wasn’t unheard of for Cookie to get excited being the center of attention, and he was known to raise his colorful crest and bob his head up and down vocalizing his name. He would then receive a special muffin-size cake made with carrots, apples, bananas, raisins, and eggs and topped with one of his favorite items, a green bean.

Considered a geriatric animal, Cookie lived a long life at Brookfield Zoo due to the dedicated and expert care he received. Like elderly humans, he faced many age-related ailments, including osteoporosis, arthritis, and cataracts. Veterinary staff closely monitored his condition and prescribed specialized diets, vitamins, and medications. “Like any elderly person, Cookie received frequent visitations by his doctors, with the focus always on how to ensure he was comfortable and in good mental health,” said Adkesson.

Since September 2009, Cookie had taken up permanent residence in the staff’s office. There he enjoyed the constant companionship of the staff he knew so well. He also received various enrichment items to occupy his time and stimulate his mind. Staff gave him a wide variety of toys and also put seeds and other treats in a paper bag that he had to tear open to get to the food. At that time, Tim Snyder, curator of birds for the Society, said, “We know Cookie’s retirement may be a disappointment to his many fans, but his well-being is our top priority, and we feel him being off exhibit is best for him at this time in his life.”

For the next several years following his retirement, Cookie made an annual appearance to celebrate his birthday with zoogoers. Staff also periodically posted video and photos of Cookie interacting with some of his favorite caretakers. Beginning in 2013, Cookie’s birthday celebrations became low key, with just staff. Those behind-the-scenes celebrations have been documented and can be viewed on the zoo’s YouTube page, with the most recent one posted on June 30, 2016.

The Society is setting up a memorial fund at CZS.org/Cookie for those who would like to make a donation in memory of Cookie. Contributions will go directly to the Society’s Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare for the care, feeding, and well-being of the entire bird collection, as well as all of the animals that call Brookfield Zoo their home. In addition, the zoo is encouraging guests to share their condolences and memories about Cookie on its Facebook page.

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