A wonderful act of mother’s care spotted at the only zoo in the UK to house the endangered great ape
Twycross Zoo, which is the only zoo in the UK that is home to bonobos, has welcomed a new baby on 9th February 2016. A 10-year-old first-time mother Kianga has given birth to a baby boy, who became the second bonobo to be born this year in any zoo across Europe and the USA. In the past twelve months, there were 11 bonobo births in zoos across the world with two of these recorded at Twycross Zoo. The endangered great ape species is found only in the basin of the Democratic Republic of Congo and according to the IUCN, the number of bonobos found in the wild has been in decline in the past 30 years, a trend expected to continue.
Following the recent arrival at Twycross Zoo, keepers were worried that the first-time mother might not have been feeding her baby very well and there was concern that he was becoming weak. But they didn’t anticipate what followed next, whereby an experienced bonobo mother helped out the new mum. Cheka is another female bonobo at Twycross Zoo, who has successfully reared several of her own babies. Her latest youngster is Ndeko, who was born in August 2015 and who is still being reared. Two days after the new baby was born, Cheka noticed that Kianga was not holding her new baby properly to allow him to suckle. Zookeepers were then amazed to see Cheka moving the baby into a position on his mother Kianga, which allowed him to feed properly. After these initial worrying few days, the baby has been developing well.
The arrival of this infant brings the group at Twycross Zoo to 13 individuals and it is the 14th bonobo born at the zoo. As bonobos face increasing threats in the wild, efforts to safeguard captive-held populations become critical in conserving the species. The two recent births at Twycross Zoo are part of a carefully planned European Endangered Species Programme which ensures healthy genetic lines.
Dr Charlotte Macdonald, Director of Life Sciences explains, “Bonobos use sex as a communication tool, so it is not always used for reproduction, but also to establish social hierarchies, or to avoid potentially aggressive situations. Because of this promiscuous behaviour, we need to carefully manage their breeding cycles. It is very exciting to welcome a second baby to our bonobo group in such a short space of time. We were astonished to find out about the wonderful intervention by Cheka, as it is unique to observe such an important social teaching behaviour. It makes us all proud of our fantastic lively bonobos, who are in fact the only group in the whole of the UK.”
To support the bonobo population in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Twycross Zoo provides funding to Lola Ya Bonobo, the world’s only bonobo sanctuary, which cares for orphaned and injured bonobos. Also, researchers from Lola Ya Bonobo have visited Twycross Zoo and given talks to visitors to raise awareness of the plight facing the bonobo.