Visitors may have noticed that a section of Taronga’s Chimpanzee exhibit has been closed to the public on certain days in January.
This step was taken to assist in the ongoing introduction of three new females to the Zoo’s chimp group, which is recognised as one of the most significant in human care in the world.
The trio of females, Naomi, Ceres and Hannah, arrived in Sydney in late 2015. Naomi and Ceres came from Givskud Zoo in Denmark and Hannah from Warsaw Zoo in Poland as part of a project designed to add vital new bloodlines to Taronga’s Chimpanzee community.
“Taronga is part of a global effort by zoos to maintain a genetically healthy population of Chimpanzees as an insurance against extinction in the wild. Three chimps have been born at Taronga in the past four years, but the continued success of our breeding program relies on the introduction of new genetics,” said Senior Primate Keeper, Katie Hooker.
After completing a one-month quarantine period, Naomi, Ceres and Hannah were introduced to each other and then moved to a behind-the-scenes area of Taronga’s Chimpanzee exhibit to begin the introduction process with the rest of the group.
“Due to the highly complex nature of Chimpanzee societies, integrating new individuals can be a slow and challenging process,” said Katie.
“The girls were kept separate from the group for the first couple of weeks, but they could see and hear them. The first chimps to be introduced to the new girls were our alpha male, Lubutu, and his closest ally, Samaki, so that positive and supportive relationships could be developed.”
More introductions followed, with Taronga’s redeveloped Chimpanzee exhibit allowing keepers to manage two separate groups during this period.
The group containing the three new females was successfully growing in size, but some tensions have arisen in recent weeks.
“We saw some aggression towards Hannah, as the lowest-ranking member of the group, so several aggressive chimps were moved to the other group to restabilise things. We also decided to close a section of the exhibit to the public on certain days to give the group more space to bond,” said Katie.
Hannah sustained some injuries during this period of tension, which are now healing thanks to close monitoring and daily medication from keepers and veterinarians.
Such injuries are common among Chimpanzee groups in the wild too, as chimps live in highly social groups built around complex hierarchies.
“Chimps in the wild can be very aggressive towards one another. It’s a natural part of their social structure, so we were expecting to see some tensions in our group when the new females were introduced,” said Katie.
“Although it’s a challenging time for Hannah at the moment, the best option is for her to remain with the group. She’s forming friendships with a number of other chimps, such as Shona, Lani and Sembe, so it’s really important that we allow those bonds to continue to build.”
Katie said the other new chimps are also forming strong friendships within the group.
“Naomi is amazing. She’s super confident and has settled into the group comfortably. Ceres was the target of some aggression a few weeks ago, but she’s come through it now and is fitting in really well,” she said.