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A move for ‘GOOD’ for Auckland Zoo’s chimps

A move for ‘GOOD’ for Auckland Zoo’s chimps

Auckland Zoo’s six youngest chimpanzees are to move to a new and considerably larger purpose-built facility at Hamilton Zoo.

Mike (left) and Luka.

The long and carefully planned for move will see Suzie, Sally, Mike, Lucifer, Luka and Lucy (who range in age from 11 – 39 years) relocate to their new 3000 square metre home this August. The move will leave Auckland Zoo with its two older chimps Janie and Bobbie, who arrived from England’s Regent’s Park Zoo in 1956 and 1959 respectively. The relocation to Hamilton paves the way for the zoo to concentrate on orangutan – an endangered species which it has held for some years and is committed to advocating for, and, through its Conservation Fund, also supports in Sumatra.

“While we are sad to see these six much loved animals go, this is an extremely positive move for them, and a carefully considered regional decision,” says Auckland Zoo Life Sciences Manager Maria Finnigan, also the chimpanzee studbook keeper for the Australasian region.

As a senior keeper at Auckland Zoo in the 1980s, Maria Finnigan worked closely with this group, and during the 1990s also worked with chimpanzee in Africa through roles with the Tanzanian Wildlife Department and Jane Goodall Institute.

Moving Auckland’s chimpanzees to Hamilton will enable each zoo to fully concentrate on one species of great ape.

Auckland Zoo is keen to let the public know now about the move, so that people feel they have time to visit and farewell the chimps. The zoo’s July school holiday programme will include a special focus on the chimps and that will also be a great opportunity to say goodbye.

Auckland’s vacated chimpanzee enclosure will later this year be incorporated into the orangutan facility, enhancing the exhibit area for this species and providing the opportunity to further develop the orangutan management programme (chimpanzee and orangutan are both endangered in the wild, with populations diminishing through habitat loss and hunting and the international pet trade).

”A good zoo recognises its limitations in what it can hold, and the need to change and improve. Auckland Zoo recognises that chimpanzees should be kept in a large community situation and Hamilton Zoo, with its impressive new exhibit is providing the opportunity for this to eventually occur,” says Ms Finnigan.

“Chimps are very social and live in multiple family communities, a bit like a suburb. They like to know who is in their community, and who’s who in terms of ranking. While they are happy to meet up, they’re also pleased to be able to get away from each other. Hamilton’s new exhibit has been purpose-built to cater for all these behaviours and requirements.”

The first chimpanzee to come into the Australasian region was in 1913 – to Sydney’s Taronga Zoo. More arrived in Australia during the 1930s and 1940s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that they came to New Zealand.

“Today, there are many fantastic examples of zoos with well-respected chimp communities, such as at this region’s Taronga and Wellington zoos, and many good reasons for zoos to have chimpanzee in their collections,” says Ms Finnigan.

“Great apes have the potential to become extinct in the next 15 years in the wild, if the bush meat trade is not arrested and people need to know this. The advocacy and educational role that zoos can play is enormous, and vital.

There are a lot of analogous behaviours between chimps and humans, and people can’t help but be amazed when watching chimps grooming themselves and interacting. The link between us and them is intriguing, and this draws people into watching, appreciating and respecting other animals as well, and that can only be good,” says Ms Finnigan.

Hamilton Zoo keeper Catherine Nichols has been working alongside Auckland Zoo primate keepers since early May, getting to know all six chimps and their individual characteristics and needs, and building up the trust and necessary bonds, that is key to ensuring a positive working relationship.

“My time here’s invaluable, and is going to help enormously when they move. I spend my day cleaning, observing the chimps and interacting one-on-one. It’s essential to build up trust, and that’s developing really well.”

Auckland Zoo’s senior primate keeper Christine Tintinger, who has worked with these chimps for many years, and fellow primate keeper Melanie Friedman, will share a support role at Hamilton Zoo for as long as is necessary.

The chimps will reach Hamilton with these trusted friends, so they will have both old and new friends to welcome them into their new home, and help them feel safe and secure. The preparation for the move was also assisted by Auckland keeper Dave Robbins.

“Our priority is to make the chimps’ transition an easy and gentle one. They’ll be given all the time they need to become comfortable in their new house, before venturing into the expansive outdoor area,” says Ms Nichols. “Hamilton Zoo is planning an official launch with the opening of the new exhibit as well as celebrating the arrival of the chimps, when the chimps are fully at home and comfortable in their new surroundings”, says Jill Prew, Administration Manager, Hamilton Zoo.

All six animals will be individually crated for the road trip to Hamilton. Two vet teams, led by Auckland Zoo senior vet Dr Richard Jakob-Hoff will, along with assistance of vet nurses and keeping staff, carry out extensive health checks on all six animals, before they leave.

“Because they have to be anaesthetised for crating, we want to make the best use of this opportunity to check out their health status. In doing so we will be able to provide Hamilton Zoo with a valuable baseline health evaluation for their records,” says Dr Jakob-Hoff.

CONSERVATION STATUS The World Conservation Union (ICUN) classifies chimpanzee as ‘endangered’ – which means they face a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.

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