Do you have a favourite member of the Chimp group and why?
It is difficult to say that any one individual is my favourite, I guess I have favourites in the different groups, for example in the group of infants, the group of adult females, the group of teenage males and then the older members. Just quietly though, Lulu, our oldest member, is an extremely special chimp.
What do you love most about working with the chimps?
The intelligence, the social dynamics, the family bonds and the individual personalities are amazing to see and a privilege to be able watch continually evolve.
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 the chimps will be excited, intrigued, cautious, familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time. I also think they will be excited to explore all the new structures and facilities.
Besides the complexity of all the new structures and ropes and hammocks I am most excited about the ability we now have, with the new separation facility, to be able to introduce new animals into the group. The most exciting part is that we have set up this community to be even more successful for many decades to come and continue to be one of the most recognised chimp groups in the world.
What is your most memorable event whilst working with these primates?
There have been many memorable moments some good and some sad. In the last 4 years we have lost two of our oldest members, Fifi in 2007 at 60 years of age and in January this year Bessie also died at 60 years old. In the same time we have had two infant chimps born, the cycle of life continues. Every day these great apes do amazing things and show amazing behaviours and display their intelligence, I could sit and watch them all day every day and never get bored. The most memorable thing will be once this project is finished and we give the chimps access into their new home, the looks on their faces when they first come out will be very memorable and will make all the hard work worthwhile.
What’s the most important thing Zoos like Taronga are doing to help Chimpanzees in the wild?
Educating the public, supporting in situ conservation projects, and learning as much as possible about the animals, for best husbandry practices are the most important things that zoos can do. If we can master all of these aspects then the future is much brighter. I consider zoos a form of Noah’s of the future.