Over the past 3 years Twycross Zoo has focussed on improving the welfare of the animals at the zoo. One major advance was the initiative to restructure the chimpanzee groupings.
Chimpanzees like to live in large family groups rather than the small groups of 2-4 traditionally used at Twycross Zoo. In the wild troop sizes can be very large of up to 80 individuals, seasonally breaking off into smaller groups of 8 – 15 chimps to feed and forage. We welcomed several experienced primate specialists to our team over the last few years as we worked behind the scenes to teach the chimps to be ‘chimp-like’ again and mix with larger groups.
The challenges the team have faced during this process soon became a talking point and we are delighted that an article published by BBC News Online on January 9th 2013 ‘PG Tips chimps: The last of the tea-advertising apes’ has generated a lot of media attention. The original article can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-23508215
Molly Badham, co-founder of Twycross Zoo, ceased using chimpanzees for the PG Tips adverts in the early 1980’s. On the subject Sharon Redrobe, Chief Executive, states:
“There is no doubt that the animals would have enjoyed themselves at the time; as babies they would have been extremely curious. And there’s no doubt that the chimpanzees at Twycross Zoo were loved and well cared for. I have a great deal of respect for the leading work Molly Badham undertook in breeding and caring for primates and it is in that light that I am pleased to be taking Twycross Zoo forward into the future developing ever more modern ways to improve the lives of our animals’.
In her time, Molly Badham was a world leader in primate care and highly regarded for her work with chimpanzees. Molly achieved many ‘world firsts’ during her leadership, from breeding animals successfully through to being a founder member of the National Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland. Molly even led to a step change in how animals were kept in zoos across the nation by giving monkeys access to grass when many zoos still kept them in sterile cages. And for all of that Twycross Zoo owes her a great debt.
Sharon continues “As with any area of science, our understanding of animal behaviour and welfare is constantly evolving. In the past people didn’t fully appreciate the long term impact of using primates in this manner. Simply put, people didn’t know any better and didn’t understand the harm they were doing to the animals by raising them around humans; those chimps then find it very difficult to live with their own kind when they eventually become too dangerous to be with humans anymore. Chimpanzees should never be kept as pets or entertainment in this day and age. That is why it’s unacceptable that in 2014 Hollywood are still using young chimpanzees in movies.
“Nowadays, the focus of our concern has to be the chimp’s whole lifetime, not just those first few years. So to allow our chimpanzees to better express their natural behaviours, we have been moving them into bigger groups. Moving and settling 24 chimps into new homes is no easy task and a very long process which includes a lot of work by our excellent keepers, veterinary staff and maintenance teams. In just three years Twycross Zoo has successfully reduced the number of chimp groups from 11 small groups to just 5 larger ones, but there’s still a long way to go.”
Twycross Zoo still cares for 23 chimpanzees. The oldest is Coco at 48 years, and the youngest Tuli, aged 6 years, who is growing up as a very confident and sociable young chimpanzee living well in a group.
Sharon finishes ‘In a world where scientists agree that apes like chimpanzees will be extinct in the wild within 20 years, it’s even more important that Twycross Zoo continuously improves the care of these precious animals. Our next focus is to raise the funds to build a large chimpanzee Eden-type area where all the chimpanzees can live under one roof and live a life even more akin to their wild cousins.’
In the 2013 BIAZA Awards Twycross Zoo received a commendation in ‘Significant Advances in Husbandry and Welfare’ category for the integration of Chimpanzees into Larger Social Groups in recognition of this amazing work.