The Los Angeles Zoo is extra thankful this holiday season after recently welcoming two male baby chimpanzees to the troop at Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains, which now includes five endangered chimp babies under the age of three years old.
“It’s pretty rare to have this many babies in one troop at a zoo,” said Jennie Becker, Curator of Mammals at Los Angeles Zoo. “Our current situation mimics that of the wild which is hard to do in captivity because most zoos don’t have the space to have this many chimpanzees which allows for this many babies.”
While the two babies were born months apart, their lives and daily experiences up to this point have been drastically different. Johari, whose name means Jewel, was born on Oct. 27 to first time mother Zoe. Currently, he can be seen in the habitat being raised by his mother and the rest of the troop. However, Oliver, born on Aug. 23 to first time mother Julie, is currently off-exhibit being hand-reared by animal care staff.
“There are two things every baby chimp must be able to do,” said Candace Sclimenti, Senior Animal Keeper at the Los Angeles Zoo. “The first is to cling to its mother, and the second is to be able to nurse from its mother. Unfortunately, Oliver wasn’t able to nurse and needed to be pulled for hand-rearing. Animal care and veterinary staff have given him around-the-clock care including feedings every three hours.”
After Oliver was pulled for hand-rearing, maternal training for Julie began with animal care staff. She was taught to bring an object, such as a stuffed animal, up to the chimp mesh so that staff could practice bottle-feeding the object. Staff believes she understands her training because after a couple of times bringing the object to the mesh, she began bringing other chimp babies in the troop to the mesh instead for the bottle feedings. Staff hopes that when Oliver is reintroduced into the troop, Julie will bring Oliver to the mesh, so that staff can continue to bottle feed him. As Oliver grows stronger, animal care staff is teaching him skills such as clinging and holding on to things so that when he is reunited with his mother Julie, he will be able to assimilate into the group right away.
“It has always been our goal to reunite baby Oliver with his mother and the rest of the troop so that he can grow up with all of his family members,” said Sclimenti. “He has always had access to the rest of the troop through sight, smell, and sound. When they communicate with him through vocalizations, he vocalizes right back.”
Oliver will soon join baby Johari along with the three female chimp babies, Zuri, Uki, and Kima, which were born between 2012 and 2013. Guests can now see four of the five baby chimps out in their habitat daily.
“Because chimpanzee babies are raised by their mothers for the first five years or so and currently all of our reproductive females have babies, this may be the last group of babies we have here at the zoo for the foreseeable future,” said Becker. “We’re so proud to have four generations of chimpanzees at our zoo.”