Leading up to World Chimp Day on Sunday, July 14, meet the seven chimpanzees that call the OKC Zoo home: Mwami, Kito, Cindy, Kirsty, Zoe, Ruben, and Siri. Guests may attend a keeper chat at 1:30 p.m. each day at the outdoor or indoor Great EscApe chimpanzee habitat.
The dominant male of the group, 30-year-old Mwami is the largest of the seven chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are very social animals and have a hierarchy, a social order, maintained among them. As such, Mwami may be seen displaying his dominance throughout the day: swaying back and forth, exaggerating his movements, and hitting objects to make loud sounds. His hair will also become fluffed to make him appear larger, which is termed piloerection.
As a surrogate mother, 32-year-old Kito has helped raise three youngsters in the zoo’s chimpanzee group when their own mothers were unable to successfully care for them. This is especially important to chimpanzees, as they typically spend the first several years of their lives in close contact with their mothers. Adolescence is a very important time in young chimpanzees’ lives, and they learn much from their mothers during this period. This includes how to find food, make a nest, and learn proper social behaviors. Kito has served as a fantastic “aunt” to Zoe, Ruben, and Siri, helping all three develop into the important members of the group that they are today.
At 51, female Cindy is the oldest member of the chimpanzee group. She demonstrates a preference for blankets and playing with the group’s younger members. She often interacts with guests at the viewing windows as well. Even though she’s older, social butterfly Cindy is the spunkiest of the group and still has much pep in her step!
Eighteen-year-old female Kirsty is the group’s best nest maker, using hay, blankets, and other items to construct these beds in which she rests and sleeps. She prefers Mwami’s company, and one of her favorite food items is peanut butter. The chimpanzees sometimes receive peanut butter placed in food puzzles which encourage foraging behaviors they would exhibit in the wild, such as termite feeding. Providing food items in different and challenging ways to the chimpanzees is known as enrichment.
Ten-year-old Zoe is the intellectual of the group who enjoys figuring out the puzzles she and the other chimpanzees often receive. She is highly skilled in extracting food items that are placed in her enrichment devices.
Six-year-old Ruben is the youngest member of the group… and by far the most mischievous. He is often seen playing spiritedly with members of his group. Learning much from Mwami, Ruben often mirrors the adult male’s exaggerated display behaviors.
Zoo visitors often ask about eight-year-old female Siri, who lost part of her arm after sustaining an injury as a baby. However, this does not slow Siri, as she is one of the most active members of the group. She keeps up with Zoe and Ruben when they play, swinging along with them and often clapping her feet.
Status of Chimpanzees in the Wild
Chimpanzees are distributed over an expansive but fragmented area in equatorial Africa. Due to habitat loss, disease, the pet trade, and the bush meat industry, it is estimated that only 175,000 – 300,000 chimpanzees remain in the wild, making them a highly endangered species.
Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden participates with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), which serves 34 zoos across the United States to provide guidance on the management of the chimpanzee population. Chimpanzee SSP advocates the provision of complex social groupings, mother-rearing, and dynamic but safe enclosures for the species. Education, research, and conservation are also essential goals of Chimpanzee SSP. More information about Chimpanzee SSP can be found at https://www.lpzoo.org/conservation-science/projects/chimpanzee-ssp.
Chimpanzees Do Not Make Good Pets
Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden has two former pets within its chimpanzee group, Cindy and Kirsty. Fortunately, since their arrival, they have successfully joined the zoo’s other chimpanzees. Like all primates, chimpanzees do not make good pets. Although they may be adorable as babies, pet chimpanzees quickly grow to become strong, dangerous, and unmanageable, as they are not provided the proper physical, mental, and social environments that they need. Luckily, some of these chimpanzees have transferred to zoos or sanctuaries, where they can live with their own species. However, this can be a very hard transition period for them, and not all zoos or sanctuaries are able to take former pet chimpanzees.
Chimpanzees in Entertainment
Highly intelligent and social, chimpanzees are easily trained. They have therefore been used for motion pictures, television programs, advertisements, and photographic props. Such flippant depictions of chimpanzees generate inaccurate portrayals of them as a sentient species and negatively impact the public’s perception of their conservation status. Furthermore, these chimpanzees are frequently raised in suboptimal conditions and merit housing in more species-typical environments.
-Roby Elsner, OKC Zoo curator of primates & Carlye Hodam, Great EscApe animal caretaker
Photos Courtesy Andrea Johnson