Nickname: Acrobat
Gender: Female
Place of Birth: Montgomery Alabama Zoo
Personality Type: Adventurous

Who is Holly?

Holly was born at the Montgomery Zoo, Alabama on March 30, 1998. She was removed from her mother to be raised by zoo staff, primarily a keeper and veterinary technician. It is difficult to raise an infant chimpanzee while also balancing a full-time job; indeed we are very familiar with how time-consuming it is to replace the constant care chimpanzee mothers provide their babies. This is one reason the Saint Louis Zoo initiated a docent “chimp-sitting” program and why we are so appreciative of the docents who have dedicated over a year helping us raise infant apes. The Montgomery Zoo’s staff felt Holly needed more attention and because the group into which she was born did not have experience fostering infants, they asked the Chimpanzee SSP to identify an alternative home for Holly.

Only two weeks after the birth of Holly, another female was born at the North Carolina Zoo to a mother who rejects her babies. The Chimpanzee SSP recommended that the two infants be raised together so each could benefit from living with another chimpanzee while be reared by humans. It was also recommended that both infants move to St. Louis to be integrated into our family group.

The girls arrived within one day of each other. At three months of age, chimpanzee babies are crawling, but still very clumsy. Everything in their world is new so when Holly and Bakhari met for the first time they did not show a significant reaction. But they certainly liked being together as evidenced by their always sleeping near or in direct contact with each other. Having essentially lived their entire lives together, the two are clearly still very close friends today.

A Tomboy Acrobat

It did not take long for those of us parenting the two girls to notice their distinct personalities. From the start, Holly was a tomboy. She did like to be cuddled at times but enough was enough! Holly was all about exploring, swinging on her plastic chains, diving into piles of hay, twirling from one foot on a rope and playing with her many toys. She was the first to climb to the top of her cage and hang from the ceiling, a feat that made her docent chimp-sitters worry. What if she fell? Shouldn’t she be rescued? But Holly knew what she was doing and has continued to be the daredevil of the group – one reason we nicknamed her the “acrobat.”

Holly was also more adventuresome than Bakhari. We wanted the girls to be comfortable in the chimpanzee exhibit in order for them to be thoroughly familiar with it prior to joining the chimp family. We brought them into the exhibit and sat with them. Bakhari stayed very close to us, whereas it did not take Holly long before she was racing around the exhibit like a wild girl. When we began introductions through the wire between the girls and the other chimps, Holly was the first to poke them, allow them to poke her and discover the delights of the tickle game. The first time the two met Mollie and Cinder without a barrier between them, Holly loved Cinder’s rough play. Looking on, we thought it got too rough, but Holly only laughed and ran back for more so we let her behavior guide us. We were therefore not surprised that, when we introduced the girls to Jimiyu and Hugo, the two individuals who loved rough and tumble play - Jimiyu and Holly - hooked up as frequent play partners.

Fearless, But Needy

Despite her tomboy nature, Holly displays some telltale signs of not being raised by her own mother. She does get nervous and shows her insecurity by grabbing a pile of hay and clinging to it like a security blanket. Holly and Bakhari clung to each other as infants and will revert to that behavior at times of stress. We observed the reemergence of her clinging behavior when we introduced the chimp group to their new outdoor world. Six of our eight chimps, including Holly, had never lived outside, so stepping into yard could be the equivalent of us landing on Mars. Interestingly, Holly did not have the opportunity to cling to Bakhari because she was too nervous to step very far into the yard. Fearless Tammy was not. Four years younger, Tammy allowed Holly to cling on to her waist and adjusted her stride so the two could walk in tandem.

Once Holly adjusts, we are confident she will be back to her old trouble-making ways. It is, after all, Holly who teasingly dangles from a rope above the larger and strong males while slapping them with a burlap bag or plastic toy. Her agility and athleticism allow her to dash away before they can retaliate. Nor is she afraid to come to the defense of another female who is being harassed by joining the victim in a screaming chase of the male offender. Now, Holly will have even more space to tease, chase and play with her adopted family.