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Sule on babysitting duty with little Fumo

Sule on babysitting duty with little Fumo. Photo by Tracey Dierikx

There’s been no shortage of activity and excitement in Taronga Zoo’s Chimpanzee Sanctuary over the past few weeks.

Our two juvenile chimps, Sule and Sembe, have been playing constantly in the summer heat, showing seemingly endless supplies of energy. While the rest of the group have been resting in the shade, these two have been chasing each other around the sanctuary, scaling the climbing structures, and dangling precariously from the highest of the high ropes, each trying to get the upper hand in their relentless quest for the title of ‘King of the Kids’!

Sule has also had his hands full babysitting Taronga’s newest addition, Kuma’s little baby, Fumo. It has become quite commonplace to see Kuma allowing Sule, who is not yet even six years old, to handle, and even take Fumo away from her.

This has surprised Keepers, as Sule was, shortly after Fumo’s birth, quite boisterous around Kuma and her newborn, and certainly was not permitted into the close circle of chimps which were granted access to Mum and bub.

Nevertheless, Sule must have displayed some good behaviour since then, as it is now not uncommon to see him playing with Fumo in the sun, or even carrying him around on his belly! In spite of this, Kuma is never too far away to retrieve her little boy should she feel the need.

Another of our young chimpanzees to have adopted a babysitting role is Lani. At nearly 12, she is considerably older than Sule, but has yet to have any young of her own. Lani has been seen carrying Fumo far away from Kuma with such composure that Kuma has shown little interest in following. She was also spotted gathering Fumo up in her arms and returning him to his mother when he strayed a little too far.

It is with great fascination that we as Chimp Keepers observe our youngsters as they watch their elders, slowly learning the skills they will need to become active, social members of our community here at Taronga Zoo.


Chimps, like humans, are adept at creating and using tools to perform certain tasks.

Across central Africa, different chimpanzee communities have, over generations, learnt various skills that allow them to extract the most from their environment. These skills are passed onto the young from the elders within the community, and hence a ‘culture’ is created. Examples of tool use range from sharpening sticks to poke into tree hollows in the hunt for secretive animals such as bush babies, to using leaves to dab at wounds and clean themselves when dirty.                                                                                        

Our chimps at Taronga have perfected the art of termite fishing, but instead of fishing for termites, they fish for treats such as banana smoothies, apple and strawberry puree or sweet potato mash.

Simon, Primate Keeper

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