Mother Carole gave birth to a healthy 1.2kg (2.6lb) infant on March 12 at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The 27 year old chimp had never given birth before.
“The birth seemed to be without complication and the baby appeared to be healthy,” said the general curator of Maryland Zoo, Mike McClure. “However, it soon became apparent that Carole was not adapting to motherhood appropriately and we made the difficult decision to remove and hand-rear the baby while searching for a suitable home with a nurturing surrogate.”
“Even as a tiny infant, it was important to familiarise Keeva with the sights, sounds and even scent of the troop,” added McClure.
While Keeva was being raised at the zoo members of the animal care were working with Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP) to find a surrogate mother.
This was an important step in the development of Keeva explained Dr. Stephen Ross who heads up the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan committee, “Research has demonstrated the critical importance for young chimpanzees to be raised by members of their own species.
32 year old Abby is one of four chimps who make their home at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. At her previous home, the Oklahoma City Zoo she reared 2 orphaned chimps known as Zoe and Siri. She also helped care for a third known as Reuben who was born at Lowry Park Zoo following the death of his mother.
“We know Abby has the instincts and skills to raise a baby chimp-she has been successful twice before,” noted Ann Tottman, Lowry Park Zoo’s general curator. “We have every reason to believe that she will raise Keeva as her own, when given an opportunity.”
Of course flying a chimpanzee cross country isn’t a normal everyday occurrence. Luckily Animal Rescue Flights (ARF), a network of pilots which transport dog and cat rescues around America stepped in to help. Volunteer Jeff Luizza offered up his services to fly Keeza to Tampa.
“Intially I wasn’t sure if we would be able to find a pilot and plane that had the seating capacity to transport the zoo caregivers along with the chimps,” said Clark Burguard, co-organiser of ARF. “As luck would have it, one of our most experienced pilots was available and volunteered.”
Mr Luizza said, “This is one of the most unusual and intriguing cases I’ve flown in 15 years of volunteer rescue and medical transport”
“Flying with ARF and Mr. Luizza, was the perfect fit,” said Carey Ricciardone, mammal collection and conservation manager at the Maryland Zoo. “It allowed us to provide constant care to Keeva along the way and we were incredibly grateful for his immediate availability.”
Now she is in Tampa caregivers are feeding, carrying and grooming Keeva in a protected area of the chimp exhibit. She has the ability to see, hear and smell the other chimps which being safe. Animal care staff are providing round the clock care.
She weighs a healthy 2.3kg (5lb). She uses her toes and fingers to grasp and hold stuff. Slowly her teeth are coming through as she learns to vocalise and make facial expressions.
At 4- 6 months old she will meet Abby for the first time and then gradually meet the other chimps. She will stay with Abby for 5 years. Chimp introductions are neither easy nor quick. Their groups have strict hierarchical structures.
“From the first moment they laid eyes on her, our chimps have been keenly interested in baby Keeva,” said Angela Belcher, primate animal care manager. “We know from experience that safe social interactions with each member of the chimp troop will be key to her eventual introduction”
Every chimpanzee born is important if this species is to be saved from the commercial logging, agriculture, fires, poaching and disease which has the lead the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to list them as endangered.
Photo Credit: Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo/ the Maryland Zoo