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DNA test confirms Sammy’s the man

DNA test confirms Sammy’s the man

Media release
16 October 2008

DNA test confirms Sammy’s the man

Like many babies, Beni’s favourite food is banana, he knows his own name, and he loves to play with his friends.

Until recently, however, his paternity was a bit of a mystery.

Beni, Wellington Zoo’s baby chimpanzee, turns one year old on 22 October, a significant milestone for an endangered species and a cause for celebration.

The offspring of the troop’s most genetically-valuable female chimpanzee—Sally—Beni is the son of Sammy whose fatherhood was recently confirmed with a DNA test of hair collected by Zoo veterinarians and tested by DNA Diagnostics in Auckland. The test also confirmed chimpanzee keeper Cassandra Butler’s thoughts on the matter.

“Sally is the most prized female in the troop, and she’s Sammy’s favourite female so we were pretty sure Sammy was the father. He’s not the alpha male—I guess you’d call him a lover not a fighter,” Cassandra says.

She says that, at almost one year old, Beni is “still very much a baby” who has integrated well with the 12 adults in the troop.

“Beni will wean when he’s about three, but has been eating solid food from a few months old. Sally has been very diplomatic about who she lets approach her baby, a smart move because Beni now has lots of friends and even plays with the alpha male.

“Some of the girls are carrying him around as well, younger females who are approaching breeding age. It’s great mothering practice for them and Beni enjoys the attention. They’re a very cohesive group and the family bond is very strong, as it is among chimpanzees in the wild,” Cassandra says.

Wellington Zoo’s chimpanzees are part of the Australasian Species Management Programme and its breeding programme is carefully managed to secure the genetic diversity of the common chimpanzee. Cassandra says they refer to stud-book recommendations to ensure healthy genetically-valuable offspring.

A party will be held for Beni’s birthday starting at noon on Labour Day, with party games, cake, face-painting and a special chimp talk at 12.45.


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