Prime-mates: Meet New Chimp Nia

Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden’s seven chimpanzees recently welcomed a new troop mate Nia (Nigh-ya), a 12-year-old female, joined the Zoo’s animal family in August 2020 from Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas. 

Nia is the half-sister of beloved 10-year-old chimpanzee, Siri, who joined the Zoo’s chimpanzee troop in 2011 as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan™ for Chimpanzees (SSP).  

The SSP also recommended Nia’s transfer to the OKC Zoo because of the growing social challenges she was experiencing in her group at Sunset Zoo. At the time of her arrival, Nia was nearly eight months pregnant. The goal was Nia would be able to join some of our chimpanzees and successfully raise her baby in that social setting. On August 28, two weeks after settling in to her new home, Nia gave birth to a healthy female behind the scenes at the Zoo’s chimpanzee habitat. After a period of time observing Nia’s interactions with her newborn infant, primate caretakers found that Nia wasn’t adapting to motherhood appropriately, so the difficult decision was made to remove and hand-rear the baby, while searching for a suitable home with a nurturing surrogate. 

For several weeks, caretakers and volunteers cared for the infant 24/7, while working with SSP. Because of its successful history of introducing chimpanzee infants to foster mothers, the SSP selected Maryland Zoo, located in Baltimore, Maryland, as Nia’s infant’s future home. The group in which the baby joined has two mother-reared infants in it, another reason Maryland Zoo was selected. 

Since arriving at Maryland Zoo, the infant, Maisie, who was named by public contest with Maisie winning the vote, continues to grow and thrive. The Maryland Zoo shares regular updates about her progress on their social platforms.  

Nia is described by her care team at the OKC Zoo as a friendly, smart and playful chimpanzee. She enjoys snacking, napping, playing and interacting with enrichment items. Nia’s favorite form of enrichment encourages her to demonstrate foraging behaviors as she searches for hidden mealworms in small piles of shavings. Caretakers often hear Nia make “happy” sounds while snacking on her favorite food items, which includes mealworms, apples and grapes. 

Nia has already created strong relationships among the Zoo’s chimpanzees, with the most notable being her bond with nearly 53-year-old geriatric female, Cindy. Cindy has been spending time behind the scenes since her eye surgery in the summer of this year, with regular access to an outdoor space not viewable to Zoo guests. Though Nia is offered the opportunity to interact with whichever troop member she’d like to daily, she chooses to spend much of her time with Cindy. 

Nia has an impressive ability to read Cindy’s body language and adjusts her activity level based on Cindy’s needs. Some days the two chimpanzees will play and wrestle, some days grooming sessions seem to be the priority, while other days Nia waits patiently for Cindy to choose to utilize her habitat space. Caretakers have often observed what appears to be Nia waiting for and assisting Cindy as she shifts throughout her available spaces for training sessions, group feedings and other activities. Because of this friendship, Cindy is able to spend more time in the indoor habitats, and she is more willing to rotate spaces throughout the day, further increasing her activity and social levels. 

Nia’s fun personality and laid-back attitude has made her a welcomed, positive addition to our chimpanzees. The care team is also pleased with the companionship Nia has provided Cindy at a very important time in her life. 

Nia, Cindy, and the other chimpanzees may be seen in the indoor habitats, though some of their time each day is also spent behind the scenes. For updates on Nia, check out the Zoo’s social media platforms. 

-- Pace Frank, lead primate caretaker

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