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Introducing Zuri to the Chimpanzee Troop

Introducing chimpanzees at a new facility takes meticulous planning. Zuri came from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and went through the standard 30-day quarantine before introductions began with the Tulsa troop. Below is a snapshot of Zuri’s journey as shared by Zookeeper Mo O’Leary.

Introducing chimpanzees is a complicated process. A young female’s integration is generally smooth, as it is a natural occurrence in the wild. Young females often emigrate out of their community to join another for breeding.

When integrating Zuri into the troop at Tulsa Zoo, staff created an intricate plan to increase the likelihood of a successful introduction. This plan created a series of steps allowing keepers to introduce Zuri to specific members of the troop at pre-selected times.

First, Zuri was given the opportunity to visually howdy with the troop from a safe distance through mesh. Zuri was understandably apprehensive but did investigate to get a view of the others. There was a lot of vocalizing, pilo erect hair, swaggering, door banging displays and visual interest. Enloe and Bernsen both showed their excitement by throwing handfuls of soil through the mesh in Zuri’s direction – these are all typical chimpanzee reactions indicating excitement.

Tulsa Zoo staff felt it was important to set Zuri up with a buddy that would offer her support and interaction. Susie, our 51-year-old female, was chosen to be Zuri’s first companion. Initially, Susie entered an adjoining room for both females to have closer visual access through a mesh door. They both calmed within minutes, so staff opened doors to allow full contact. The initial meeting of the two females showed Zuri’s confidence as she swatted at Susie. This was a bold step from Zuri and took Susie by surprise. It took some time, but staff started to see a bond form between the two females. They nested close to each other, Zuri food inspected from Susie and they began building trust.

Next, staff allowed the two to explore the other living areas in our facility, starting with the indoor exhibit. To get inside, the two had to pass through an overhead area where the troop could be seen but did not have access. Zuri was hesitant, but Susie offered gestures of reassurance and an outstretched hand to give Zuri the confidence she needed to follow. These reassurance behaviors continued as the two explored the outdoor exhibit.

Next staff introduced both Zuri and Susie to Bernsen, our alpha male. Bernsen and Susie greeted and embraced, then Bernsen approached Zuri twice and she swatted him away. From there, the trio shifted inside. Staff observed Zuri going to Susie for reassurance; Bernsen was displaying and Susie was running interference between the two. The activity calmed, but staff had not observed Zuri greet or present to Bernsen nor Bernsen attempt to inspect Zuri. These are positive behaviors zoo staff would expect to see between the alpha male and female.

Seeing the interactions between Zuri and Bernsen, staff began discussing next steps. It was decided Morris would be added to the group for additional male support. The bond that Susie has with both her sons, Bernsen and Morris, is very strong. The two males had been away from Susie for over a week while Susie was paired with Zuri. When the doors were opened Morris, Bernsen and Susie huddled to greet each other intensely. They embraced, kissed and hugged with a lot of pant grunting vocalizations of reassurance. Morris then moved in and took over the leading role to assert himself with Zuri. She immediately took a submissive stance with Morris and began the dance of moving away from him while he advanced and impressed her with his displays.

Gradually, over a short period of time, Zuri allowed Morris to get closer and he was allowed to inspect her swelling. This is a pivotal interaction between a male and female chimpanzee. Morris acknowledged Zuri’s solicitation for reassurance as he approached and made contact with her extended arm. Eventually, the two made face-to-face contact with a kiss. This, in chimpanzee language, is the ultimate sign of “we are okay”.

At this time, the team decided to give Morris, Bernsen, Susie and Zuri time to bond and share the back holding space together. Thirty minutes after that decision, Morris approached Zuri and began to groom her. Susie and Bernsen gathered in close proximity and a very intimate moment occurred. Morris’ teeth clacking demonstrated his excitement in the activity. Chimpanzee grooming is key to building social bonds and this was the first grooming we had witnessed with Zuri.

Next Tulsa Zoo introduced Jodi and Enloe to the initial grouping of Zuri, Bernsen, Morris and Susie. There was initial excitement between the troop members that know each other, then Jodi asserted herself toward Zuri. Enloe and Zuri were immediately interested with each other as noted by their eye contact. However, Jodi was protective of Enloe and displaced Zuri from him several times. It did not take much time, minutes, for Jodi to acknowledge the submissive solicitations from Zuri and the two greeted then reassured each other ending with a kiss. Zuri and Enloe took that as a sign and greeted one another immediately following.

Seeing the positive interactions, staff felt it was important to move forward adding Leia into the group; 15 minutes after Jodi and Enloe entered the entire indoor chimpanzee space was opened and Leia joined the troop. There were typical chimpanzee dynamics that followed including screaming, displaying, chasing, mild contact aggression and reassurances. Bernsen then solidified his alpha status with confidence by driving threats away from Zuri. Within the hour the activity had calmed and all seven chimpanzees were united into one group.

Having a cohesive troop is important. Through thoughtful planning and active observation, our team was able to facilitate a successful introduction for Zuri. We’re excited to see the chimps continue to grow their bonds as we move forward!

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