Taronga Zoo has welcomed the birth of an endangered, bright orange Francois Leaf- monkey, the first to be raised by its mother in Australia.
The male infant was born to mother, ‘Saigon’, and father, ‘Hanoi’, and discovered cradled in its mother’s arms in the early morning of Saturday 30 January by zoo keepers who had been monitoring the pregnancy.
Taronga Zoo Primate Keeper, Roxanne Pellat, said: “Obviously we were all very relieved when we discovered Keo-co cradled in Saigon’s arms. He had been licked clean, was warm, alert and the two adult females began sharing the role of caring for him. This is exactly what we hoped to see as this birth is particularly significant.”
“The youngster is the first Francois Leaf-eating Monkey to be raised by its mother along with another adult female ‘Meili’ in our harem group. Unlike us humans who pretty much have the solo task of raising our babies, these monkeys share mothering duties with other females in their group.”
“Consequently, we have named the infant ‘Keo-co’ (pronounced key-co) which is a traditional game of tug-of-war played in the villages of Vietnam. We noticed in the early days of his life ‘Saigon’ and ‘Meili’ were quite competitive as to who spent the most amount of time caring for the newborn,” said Roxanne.
Meili arrived from Beijing last year to help create the natural harem social structure of this monkey species. It wasn’t long afterwards that Saigon fell pregnant to the resident male, ‘Hanoi’.
Importantly, Meili has had offspring before and has proven to be a very good mother, whereas Saigon has had a few false starts to motherhood. ”We really wanted Saigon to raise the infant herself and were hoping Meili would teach Saigon a thing or two about motherhood.”
Roxanne said: “One of Saigon’s infants failed to thrive and her first offspring ‘Elke’, a female, had to be hand-reared by keepers when Saigon seemed confused by the bright orange arrival which is a common response for a first-time mother. Elke now lives with another male Leaf-monkey, ‘Bobo’ and is about to celebrate her second birthday.”
Keo-co has begun to explore the outside exhibit sticking close to the adult females, but is also very curious, confident and playful.
Now that the monkeys are spending longer outside in their tropically-themed exhibit, visitors to Taronga’s Rainforest Trail will be amongst the first in Australia to see an adult Francois Leaf-monkey leaping through the forest with a vibrantly coloured infant.
The birth could not have come at a better time with researchers recently discovering that despite once being widespread throughout Vietnam and China, there could be as few as 1000 Leaf-eating Monkeys left in the wild due to habitat loss and poaching.
Taronga is the only zoo in Australasia to care for this highly endangered south-east Asian monkey, but is working with other zoos globally to help ensure a future for this species.