As winter sets in and the weather begins to turn a little colder, our chimpanzee community is getting used to life without the matriarch of the group, Lulu.
It was of course the ‘L’ family that was hit hardest by the loss of Lulu; her daughter Lisa, grandson and alpha male Lubutu, and great-granddaughter Lani.
Lani especially had a close relationship with Lulu, keeping Lulu company in her old age, much the same as human grandparents have close relationships with their grandchildren.
Whether the loss of the head of Lubutu’s family proves to be a catalyst for a shift in power is yet to be seen, but what we do know is chimpanzee communities are ever-changing, complex, and extremely political societies, and that the other adult males within our community could well see Lubutu’s loss as an opportunity to challenge for his position.
What we as keepers found intensely moving was watching the reaction of the group when we let them into the den area to view Lulu’s body.
Emotions ran high for the group and keepers alike, and our tears flowed freely as we watched each chimp pay their respects to Lulu in their own unique way, often sitting in complete silence gazing at her body, and sometimes hugging each other.
What was undeniable was the similarity between the chimps’ emotions and our own in times of grief, and the comfort both species seek from family and friends to ease the pain.
Last week we were extremely fortunate to meet the inspirational Dr Jane Goodall, when she visited Taronga’s Chimpanzee Sanctuary and spoke to us about the need to nurture our environment.
Listening to the words of such an amazingly talented individual, who single-handedly changed the way we thought of apes, and, consequently, ourselves, was an absolute privilege.
Her appearance at the exhibit prompted much excitement among the chimpanzee group, including young 7-month-old Fumo, who came very close to one of the viewing windows to introduce himself.
Chimpanzees are omnivores, just like us.
This means their diet includes fruit, nuts, seeds, blossoms and vegetables, as well as insects and meat.
In the wild, chimpanzees have been observed hunting, killing, and eating small mammal species such as red colobus monkeys and juvenile bush pigs.
Usually these hunts are carefully orchestrated, and once the prey has been caught the meat is shared carefully among those who participated in the hunt, and those who hold high social standings.
Our chimps’ diet includes fruits such as apples, oranges, bananas, watermelon, tomatoes and grapes, as well as vegetables such as sweet potato, leeks, carrots, turnips, pumpkin and corn, and leafy greens such as spinach, celery and lettuce.
Certain treats, such as coconuts and peanuts, are often added for dietary enrichment, and all in all, our chimps have a very balanced diet which keeps them active and healthy.
- Primate keeper, Simon Hersee