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Rocky zoo keeper explains how baby chimp birth unfolded

Rocky zoo keeper explains how baby chimp birth unfolded

THE celebrated arrival of a baby chimp at Rockhampton Zoo has seen a decade of work prove successful.

About 4am Monday morning, chimpanzee Leakey gave birth to her first baby.

It's a momentous achievement for Rockhampton Zoo, with the new arrival believed to be the first chimpanzee born in Queensland since the 1970s.

Rockhampton Zoo life sciences coordinator Graeme Strachan said the birth was a culmination of years of hard work, coming 10 years to the day since he first sat down to discuss Rockhampton's chimpanzee program with Taronga Zoo experts.

 

Life Science Coordinator Graeme Strachan.
Photo Allan Reinikka / The Morning Bulletin
Life Science Coordinator Graeme Strachan. Photo Allan Reinikka / The Morning Bulletin Allan Reinikka ROK010716azoo2

In that time, Rockhampton has rehabilitated two male and two female chimpanzees, built a new $1.13 million enclosure and welcomed two chimpanzees from Israel as part of an international program.

It was these two chimps, Alon and Leakey who are the proud parents of the zoo's latest addition.

Mr Strachan said the key to the pregnancy had been creating a habitat mimicking the natural environment.

"(Chimps) are not monogamous, they're not like humans: they like to live with an extended social family life," he said.

 

"So the thing was getting them all together and getting their good behaviours going, getting them secure and feeling comfortable with their surroundings.

"It all takes a long time for that to fall into place."

Mr Strachan said keepers were pleased it was Leakey who became the first of the group to give birth, as she had witnessed other chimps go through labour and birth in Israel.

He said she would now pass that knowledge on to the other animals in the family.

Chimpanzee gestation is eight and a half months, but Mr Strachan said the only clue they had the birth was nearing was Leakey's lethargy during the past week.

 

Rockhampton Zoo's chimpanzee Leakey has given birth to the first baby chimp in Queensland in decades.
Rockhampton Zoo's chimpanzee Leakey has given birth to the first baby chimp in Queensland in decades. Rockhampton Regional Council

"She was generally showing symptoms that it was getting close, but we could never be sure," Mr Strachan said.

The pregnancy was diagnosed using urine, the same as human pregnancies, and chimpanzee experts were consulted alongside human midwives.

The baby's gender hasn't be determined yet because keepers can't yet get close enough to do a physical examination.

Mr Strachan said the birth itself was also "completely hands off" and monitored via cameras in the enclosure.

Keepers had been monitoring these outside zoo hours and on Sunday evening noticed signs Leakey was in labour.

 

Chimpanzee Leaky with her new baby.  Still image from a video provided by the Rockhampton Zoo.
Chimpanzee Leaky with her new baby. Still image from a video provided by the Rockhampton Zoo.

By morning, the baby had arrived.

"It's all up to them and we leave them space to do their thing," Mr Strachan said.

When it comes to naming the new arrival, it's likely the baby will be given an African name in a nod to the species heritage.

"Any day a new chimpanzee comes into the world, it's got to be a good day," Mr Strachan said.

"There's so many problems going on in Africa for the chimpanzees with rainforest destruction that unfortunately a lot of their future relies on breeding programs."

The enclosure will remained closed to the public until keepers believe Leakey is ready, so as not to jeopardise the bond between parents and baby.