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At the new Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Louise Grossfeldt with Jane Goodall & Zoo Director Cameron Kerr
Louise Grossfeldt with Jane Goodall and Zoo Director Cameron Kerr.
How long have you worked with the Chimp group?

Approx 18 years

Do you have a favourite member of the Chimp group and why?

Of course not!! – well we all know how much I love Lubutu –  he was just a young man when I started and I enjoyed watching him grow and develop. For me it was like our lives were running parallel – I was only a few years into my zoo keeping career, and he was learning what it was like to be a young chimp – I remember thinking that he came to the alpha male position quite young and I also fell into the supervisor job after only a few years on primates. I also have to admit I do find him a bit handsome!!

But it is also about his personality and gentle nature – he is that all round nice guy.

What do you love most about working with the chimps?

Well I would say the unpredictability of chimpanzees – this always makes life interesting. People find them scary and overwhelming – it’s like looking in the mirror. It’s hard to watch the dark side of their personalities come out through territorial displays and aggressive encounters  - but it’s nice to see the softer side, as mothers protect their children and long lasting friendships are formed.

How do you think the chimps will react to their new exhibit? What aspects of the new exhibit are you most excited about?

I think they will see it as familiar territory with a number of new exciting modifications – I imagine the boys will feel overwhelmed and the females will take the lead – power always lies with the women!!

What is your most memorable event whilst working with these primates?

I have so many amazing memories working with the chimps it is hard to pick the most memorable. Watching chimps being born, seeing males challenge each other for the alpha male position, watching chimps mourn the loss of loved ones – I guess the most amazing experience was seeing our old girl Fifi recover from an illness that saw her get back up on her feet after being sick for months and still engage in the group politics  - she was the ultimate chimp.

What’s the most important thing Zoos like Taronga are doing to help Chimpanzees in the wild?

We tell the story for the wild chimps that face an uncertain future – by trying to preserve a socially and behaviourally competent group of chimps we are an insurance policy for a species that we may lose in the wild – these strategies must run parallel - protecting wild populations and helping to deal with the in-situ issues while preserving the integrity of our Zoo and sanctuary animals as much as we can !!