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Chimp's birth is park's newest attraction

The first chimpanzee birth in nine years at Busch Gardens is expected to draw a crowd.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000


photo
[Times photo: Thomas Goethe]
Pasty munches on watermelon as her baby born on July 23 clings to her.
TAMPA -- A chimpanzee born eight days ago at Busch Gardens caused as much excitement among zoo curators as the birth of a child to proud parents.

Because the zoo chimp population is tightly controlled to avoid inbreeding, it had been nine years since one was born at Busch Gardens.

But last year, curators at the attraction got the go-ahead to breed Patsy, a mother 11 times before, with Bamboo, the dominant male in a group of six chimps.

Patsy delivered July 23, and two days later she brought the 3-pound infant into public view for the first time.

"Bringing a new baby into the group adds a whole new dimension," said Busch curator Bill Hoffman. "Younger animals are more active and curious. It gets the chimps inter-acting socially."

Baby chimps spend the first year clinging to their mothers, and Hoffman said it might be some time before they know the sex since the mother won't let them get near it.

Meanwhile, zoo staffers watch closely. They did see the baby urinate, and based on the trajectory they think it might be male.

The baby joins eight other chimps at Busch Gardens that live in two groups and include three of Patsy's 11 other offspring.

Because inbreeding can threaten the genetic diversity critical to a healthy population, females are given contraceptive implants, and births are coordinated with zoos nationwide.

Zoos wanting to breed must apply to Randy Fulk, curator of the North Carolina Zoo in Raleigh. Last year, Fulk gave permission to Busch Gardens and nine others.

Fulk oversees the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's species survival plan for chimpanzees and maintains the chimpanzee stud book. He knows the blood lines of the 230 chimps kept in zoos affiliated with the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

They all are managed as one big population. Before giving permission to breed, Fulk reviews how closely related a zoo's chimps are to one another.

Zoos must also demonstrate that they have enough space for another chimp and that the birth is needed to maintain the social balance of a group. Sometimes, a group needs an older female to breed so that she can demonstrate the techniques of rearing a chimp to the younger females, who learn by watching.

Until 50 years ago, millions of chimpanzees lived in an area of west-central Africa larger than the United States. Today, it is feared there are fewer than 200,000. They are hunted for their meat and their habitat is being destroyed through logging and farming.

In the United States, about 1,700 chimps live in research facilities. An unknown number reside in circuses, roadside zoos and private homes. A baby chimp sells for up to $30,000 or more, according to the Primate Rescue Center in Nicholasville, Ky.

Chimps can live for 50 years, and males can weigh up to 150 pounds. They quickly lose their appeal as pets when they grow stronger than their owners.

Hoffman said it is likely the new chimp will be sent to another zoo some years from now to help balance a population.

In the meantime, it is expected to draw a lot of visitors.

"Hardly any animal gets as much public attention as a baby gorilla or chimpanzee," said Jane Ballentine, spokeswoman for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

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