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Zoo celebrates hand-reared gibbon’s family reunion

Zoo celebrates hand-reared gibbon’s family reunion

Auckland Zoo staff are delighted that one-year-old siamang gibbon Iwani has been successfully reintegrated with his family after being hand-reared by zoo staff from seven weeks old.

Auckland Zoo senior keeper Christine Tintinger has hand-reared Iwani since his mum rejected and injured him and his twin sister Iberani in March last year. The zoo believes raising twins may have been too much for Iwani’s mother Iuri, who has been an extremely nurturing and caring mother to her five previous offspring. Only 2 per cent of captive-bred siamang births result in twins. Sadly, Iwani’s twin sister died from her injuries.

“Our main concern was that Iwani’s mother might bite him again if he became aggressive, or that his parents would ignore him,” says Ms Tintinger.

“Thankfully neither has happened. Iuri isn’t a touchy-feely mother, but Iwani gets the physical and social contact that he needs for his psychological well-being through his brother and dad.”

Ms Tintinger is still bottle-feeding Iwani every morning through the bars of his enclosure within the NewztalkZB Rainforest, but will stop doing this at the end of the week now that he is getting accustomed to competing with others for food. She says Iwani is slowly learning the etiquette of being a siamang.

“He’s quite a stroppy little thing because he’s had one-on-one attention, but he’s now having to learn to accept that I’ll be giving out food to others in his presence.

“I don’t go into his cage anymore, but I still try to go past him everyday. We don’t want to break the bond we’ve established too much – it’s useful to have that bond so we can get close to him for such things as medical checks.”

Ms Tintinger says it was a tough decision to hand-rear Iwani. “Primates tend to think they’re human. We knew there was the danger that if we hand-reared Iwani he could become too ‘humanized’ and that his family, and other zoos, would reject him.”

The key to successfully reintegrating Iwani was keeping him “in sight and sound” of his family.

“In the past we’ve reared animals away from their species, such as in our veterinary department. However, we raised Iwani in a cage next to his family. As he got older we made a purpose built cage in front of the enclosure so that his family could physically touch him and ‘rough him up a bit’ to help him learn to stick up for himself,” says Ms Tintinger.

“He then went into an enclosure with his brother, which was a really important step. I think he learnt how to be a siamang through the physical contact with his brother.”

Note to the editor:

SIAMANG GIBBONS are a lesser species of ape, and the largest of the nine species of gibbon, native to the rainforests of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra. Adult siamangs mate for life – Auckland Zoo’s adults Iuri and Itam have been together since early 1988, and, excluding the fatally injured female twin Iberani, have to date produced six off-spring. It’s their distinctive boom and bark that distinguishes this species as the loudest of all the primates. Their twice-daily vocalisation helps them form and maintain a pair bond as well as advertising and defending territory. Siamang gibbon are classified as ‘near threatened’ (approaching vulnerable) by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). They are still taken for the pet trade and their natural habitat is being destroyed for the timber industry and for cattle.

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