When Rick Swope brought his family to the Detroit Zoo in the summer of 1990 he had no idea that he'd leave the zoo a hero. The Swope family and other zoo visitors were looking down into the chimpanzee area when they heard a splash and realized that a chimp had fallen into the surrounding moat.


"It was the most pitiful thing I ever saw," Swope told the Chicago Tribune shortly after the incident. "This chimp had his hands up and his head was sticking out of the water. He was looking at the crowd. It was like he wanted someone to rescue him." Visitors shouted while zookeepers warned everyone to stay back.

The chimpanzee, named JoJo, was in serious trouble. Chimpanzees cannot swim; their bodies, although similar to ours in many other ways, are constructed of heavy, dense bones with very little of the fat layer that provides humans so much buoyancy.

Against zookeepers' advice, Swope jumped into the water to help the drowning chimpanzee. "I was really kind of hoping someone else would do it," Swope, then a 33-year-old truck driver, told the Tribune. "But when nobody did, I knew that if I didn't, I'd go home and kick myself in the butt."

With some difficulty, Swope pulled JoJo to safety on the shore of the enclosure. "When I finally got him up to the bank, and I could hold him up there, he wasn't moving," Swope said in an Animal Planet video about the incident, posted to YouTube in 2008. "But he was looking at me when I got him turned around, so I knew he was alive." 

JoJo is no longer at the Detroit Zoo, but it is unclear whether he has passed away or was moved to a different location. Swope, who still lives in the area, is considered a hero by animal lovers everywhere.

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