In this modern day and age you’d not think there would still be problems with parenting, at least not with animals. I imagine this statement has you also wondering which animals this could pertain to. Well, strain your brain a little and ask yourself which animals are closest to being human clones. You have to admit it must be within the ape family. Bingo, you’ve got it!
We have been living with our family problem since the birth of a set of twin chimpanzees, a rarity in itself. Actually, upon reflection, the problems started with the new home and pairing of the parents, Jens and Josie. Jens was bought from a small circus in Heidelberg, Germany, which was having severe financial problems at the time. The circus owners happened to be close friends of my boss who naturally offered to help them out. This entailed the formal purchase of Jens, a chimpanzee.
Jens had originally been born in North America where he lived until the age of three. Thereafter he had been bought, sold and housed in the Münich Zoo Hellabrun until he was five. When the zoo had decided to downsize their ape family housing, he was then sold to a small local circus. Jens' circus life lasted for three years. Josie was found through an advert of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Being a transplant from a Tanzanian National Park, she had several issues to overcome. These included a change in climate, homesickness for her ‚family’ as well as her country and her youth.
The new home for both Jens and Josie is the Copenhagener Zoo in Fredriksberg, Denmark. I am on the team caring for mammalians. I have been a member of the team since the arrival of Jens. One of my first observations was the obvious lack of a female companion for him. So the search began. In the meantime, Jens had a bit of time to enjoy his extra freedom in new surroundings. We soon lucked out with an advert WWF had placed in a quarterly zoological magazine we subscribe to. It took six months before the arrival of Josie occurred. Jens was now nine-years- old and Josie four.
Chimpanzees were newcomers to our zoo. We could not place Jens with the gorillas nor with the monkeys due to the clash in characters. Jens had no problems with the climate as there was only a slight change in it. He had long overcome any homesickness for his family or his home. What he did appear to miss was the activity the circus had offered him. We began to notice this after three months of being left on his own, he began to be aggressive and to throw his food back in our face.
Have you ever experienced being bombarded with ripe fruit mixed with honey and handfuls of insects? It’s not at all funny, though we can laugh about it now. And have you ever heard a chimpanzee screech? We started to wear ear plugs during feedings. In the end we were totally dressed in rubber from head to foot.
His domain, indoors and outdoors, did include a good size, and as well-furnished with opportunities for climbing and swinging from one side of the enclosure to the other. This also allowed him to build his nest in three different trees at heights suitable to chimpanzees. I had known from studies that these animals chose to change their bed every night. To cope with his inactivity, we began to take Jens by the hand and walk the outside area with him before zoo openings and after closing. We had no intention of spoiling him. Sorry to say, it did. I was at fault. I have a ten-year-old daughter who also walked Jens with me. So for a brief period we managed to satisfy Jens’ needs.
Oh what joy we all had when Josie’s arrival was finalized. We only imagined how happy both Jens and Josie, us included, would be after a brief adjustment period.
Well it required adjustment for our whole team as well. I spent my evenings doing research on chimpanzees and their behaviour. I learnt that this animal species (short name Pan) was the closest to the human species. This means that we have to consider the emotional aspect of both male and female.
Based on the studies, Josie had just been torn away from her mother who had weaned her until less than a year ago. For a young chimpanzee, this was quite similar to suddenly becoming an orphan. She needed bodily warmth. Well my daughter was called in for duty.
The next possible adjustment was the climate. Josie arrived in wintery cold strong winds. Think of landing in tropical humid Florida from a cooler European country. You are ready to faint when the first blast of warm air hits you upon leaving the plane. Now Josie was experiencing the opposite effect. She began screeching for this tropical feeling, she missed home! We added heat to the wish list.
The following problem: We had thought there would be no cause for concern between Jens and Josie mating. Think again. According to studies, the male dominates and is used to having a selection of females. He had only one and she was very young in comparison.
'Well, we were not really thinking of increasing the number of chimpanzees, were we!' my boss reminds me.
'Ah, of course not sir,' but, of course, it was in my mind.
'You can imagine having a group of them and then having their young to care for. We’d have to then increase the size of their domain for which we have no extra room to spare,' he added, 'nor the clout.'
So we tried putting them together sooner than we thought was sensible. This turned out to be a fiasco. I justified it thinking Jens would possibly feel sorry for Josie and take her under his wing. After a short span of them observing each other, this developed into a screeching contest in the right and left corners. There was no fire to account for this, no sirens wailing to cause it. Our little animal kingdom then added their share of complaints. You name a noise and I’m sure we had it that night. Groans, grunts, whistles, clucks, pssts and thumping of feet and tails, feathers being ruffled, roars from the lions, horses whinnying. Our team had a late night show to put to rest. We gave both Jens and Josie drinks laced with a sleeping potion. We then tended to the other poor creatures robbed of their night’s rest. We managed to bed ourselves down by 4 am.
It took another few weeks to finally get Jens and Josie to accept each other. Perhaps our nasty Copenhagen winter aided us in the long run. They soon discovered how nice it was to keep each other warm. Lo and behold, our vet upon finishing his monthly rounds, congratulated us on the coming birth of Josie’s baby, due date in October. My immediate thought: at least it’d still be warm.
The months really flew by with less and less domestic problems to solve. About the sixth month of pregnancy, our vet showered us with more congratulations. Josie was bearing twins. This seldom ever took place with chimpanzees; guess it’s because Jens only had Josie and no other competition. Wouldn’t you agree?
August passed uneventfully, September started – we were into the third week when Josie started to become aggressive and whimpering, this soon turned into screeching.
'Quick,' I yelled, 'phone the vet, I think we’re about to have a birth here!'
We were ready, Doc had prepared us a wee bit.
'Marius, take Jens for a walk! And figure out where to put him up for the night.'
'Stefan bring the water to a boil for Doc and don’t forget the blankets!'
'Michel help me lay down a load of fresh hay here near Josie. You and I will be assisting Doc should he need us.'
Doc arrived and gave Josie some pain reliever. He then explained Josie needed her privacy. We should be nearby in case of complications. We had a 4-hour wait until the first chimp appeared. Doc had intervened there and took the chimp away, cleaned it up and wrapped it in a blanket. An hour later the baby’s twin arrived. Josie was left to mother her two babies. Jens returned home the next day. We patted ourselves on the back; the birth was easier than we had all expected.
All appeared to be well and happy. Our zoo made the headlines the following day. Our boss, full of delight, imagined a surge of folk would soon be on our doorstep adding to our daily income.
Plans were made for the naming of the chimps at the zoo, my daughter’s idea! They’d have a public contest, the folk would name them. The winner(s) would be given a 3-month family pass to the zoo, as well a family photo together with the chimpanzees.
Time would tell how long we’d have to live a period of normality. Relish it as long as we could! We were left with a head full of questions. How quick do the chimps grow? Will they need supplements? How will Jens react towards his family? Is there enough room for them all? Will we have to separate them? Will Josie accept both babies? What shall we do if she or Jens doesn’t accept them? Is there a reason to panic? Of course, the media hasn’t helped to calm us down.
'Life is life, manage it while you can' has turned out to be our motto. It’s been a learning experience for us all. You’ll get a report in half a year. Wish us luck!
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