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Maryland Zoo Provides Surrogate Mother for Orphaned Chimpanzee

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: October 14, 2020 10:05 pm

maryland zoo chimpanzee

The chimpanzee infant holds on to her carer at the Maryland Zoo

Photo Credit: The Maryland Zoo

A chimpanzee at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore will become a surrogate mother for a chimpanzee infant whose mother was not able to care for her.

The female chimpanzee infant was born at the Oklahoma City Zoo on August 28, 2020. Mother Nia gave birth to the infant and initially all appeared to be well.

“The birth seemed to be without complication and the baby appeared to be healthy,” stated Pace Frank, lead primate caretaker at the Oklahoma City Zoo. “However, it was quickly apparent that Nia 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.”

Once they removed the infant care staff at the Oklahoma City Zoo worked 24/7 to ensure its survival. During this time they worked with the coordinator of the Association of Zoos & Aquarium’s (AZA) Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP) to find a suitable home where the infant could be introduced to a surrogate.

maryland zoo chimpanzee

The chimpanzee infant holds on to her carer at the Maryland Zoo

Photo Credit: The Maryland Zoo

“It’s very important for chimpanzees to be raised by their own species. As humans, we can’t give an infant chimp all it needs to develop into a well-functioning member of a group,” said Judy McAuliffe, curator of primates at Houston Zoo and Chimp SSP Program Leader. “Maryland Zoo has had tremendous success introducing infants to foster mothers who can raise them as part of an integrated group, which is absolutely the best thing for the infant.”

Staff at the Maryland Zoo were happy to help care for the infant as Erin Grimm, mammal collection and conservation manager for the Maryland Zoo explained,” Hand-raising a baby chimp is a huge undertaking and not one to be taken lightly. However, we are always happy to help our zoo colleagues, especially when it is in the best interest of the animal in question. This little chimp will be a welcome addition to our troop.”

With the introduction of this infant there are now fifteen members of the Maryland Zoo chimpanzee troop. The new infant will have two playmates within the troop including a ten month old called Violet and a one year old known as Lola.

“As this new baby is integrated into the troop, she will have two companions to play with, which is essential to her development,” continued Grimm. “It’s also important to note that chimp Abby is a proven surrogate mother who has helped raise several other baby chimps without mothers. We are confident in Abby’s mothering skills to help this little one become a solid part of this troop.”

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maryland zoo chimpanzee

The chimpanzee infant holds on to her carer at the Maryland Zoo

Photo Credit: The Maryland Zoo

Another challenge was getting the infant to the zoo. "A baby chimp is held by its mother 24/7 and is completely reliant on her to not only nurse, but also to learn how to be a chimp," said Grimm. "We worked out a travel plan with our colleagues in Oklahoma City to drive and meet halfway between our zoos so we could pick up this little chimp and provide her with constant care the entire way from Oklahoma to Maryland."

Before she is introduced to her surrogate mother the infant is being cared for behind the scenes. Committed staff are working in three shifts to care for the infant. “She drinks baby formula every three hours, sleeps, and gets a little bit of playtime to help strengthen her muscles,” continued Grimm. “We also wear a shirt and blanket that have fringe material sewn on that helps the baby learn to grip.”

“The nursey is set up in the staff observation room so that the troop can see the baby and start to learn who she is,” noted Grimm. “It is also important for the baby to hear chimp noises and be exposed to all their sounds and smells as early as possible to help with the transition to the surrogate mom and normal chimp life when she is ready.”

“Our staff is committed to being here day and night to care for her; it can be stressful as well as rewarding, not to mention expensive,” concluded Grimm. “But we can’t wait to see her develop and to share her milestones with the public from behind-the-scenes at Chimp Forest.”

maryland zoo chimpanzee

The chimpanzee infant holds on to her carer at the Maryland Zoo

Photo Credit: The Maryland Zoo

Learn more about chimpanzees here – Chimpanzee Fact File | The Animal Facts

Learn more about the Maryland Zoo on their website – The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

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