Nickname: Trickster
Gender: Female
Place of Birth: Lincoln Park Zoo
Personality Type: Manipulative

Who is Mlinzi?

Mlinzi was born December 9, 1992, at the Lincoln Park Zoo, in the same group as Jimiyu. Indeed, the two are related; Jimiyu’s mother is Mlinzi’s grandmother and they also have a grandfather in common. Like Jimiyu, Mlinzi was mother-reared and she was removed when diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. She was treated for metabolic bone disease after which she came to the Saint Louis Zoo to be a companion to Hugo.

As a youngster, Mlinzi was petite in size, but she made up for her stature with personality. She loved her food, a trait she has never lost, and could barely contain her excitement when mealtime came around. Her hoots and squeals of delight could change to screams and temper tantrums if she didn’t get the food when she wanted it and where she wanted it. From the moment we met her, we realized that such things as rings, watches, and pockets fascinated Mlinzi; she had to discover for herself what these objects were all about. Her face knotted in concentration and smacking her lips in pleasure, Mlinzi poked, scratched, pulled and tugged at the object.

Clever And Talented

Mlinzi is also very clever at figuring out how to get something that is out of her direct reach. For example, there was the day the chimpanzees received diced fruit spread over the top of their off-exhibit holding areas. We like to vary how we present the apes their daily diet in order to encourage searching and manipulating behaviors used by wild chimps when foraging. One piece of apple had landed on a beam and could not be retrieved, but Mlinzi knew how to solve the problem -- she grabbed a small stick and for a half hour worked diligently to push the fruit to where she could get it. She spent some time looking at her prize before she rewarded herself by eating it.

Another example is Mlinzi’s tactic when we give the chimps “popsicles” in the summer. We make popsicles by freezing sugar-free juice in empty water bottles. These highly preferred treats have the added bonus of lasting a long time, especially if the ape cannot bite them open. However, Mlinzi discovered a creative and intelligent method of enjoying the frozen juice by grabbing her share of the bottles and heading for the water faucet (water is obtained by pressing the nozzle). She places the bottles under the faucet, runs water over them, and after a few minutes tilts the bottle back to drink the juice that melted off in the process. She repeats the process until she has thawed all of the ice. The others are often still preoccupied with banging the frozen bottles on rocks or attempting to chew them open.

Mlinzi also amuses herself with a variety of games, some directed at people she doesn’t know well or whom she has not yet allowed into her circle of approved friends. The spitting game is always a good one. Should Mlinzi spot an unsuspecting maintenance person who has arrived to repair something, she will quickly get a mouth full of water. Positioning herself in the perfect spot, she demurely waits for the person to pass and blasts him with a shower.

Mlinzi is the only chimpanzee we know of that can actually play the trumpet, harmonica and kudzu. It’s remarkable because most chimps have a difficult time grasping the concept of blowing into the instrument; their inclination is to stick their tongues into it. If one of us holds the instrument against the mesh door for her, Mlinzi will blow a little tune.

Admired Female

Clever and manipulative, Mlinzi also has a sweet side. She became Hugo’s best friend as he was growing up and was there for him when he felt insecure. After Mlinzi joined our family group she proved to be a wonderful big sister to Cinder. Although little Mlinzi was only 20 months older than Cinder, she carried the younger chimp on her back. When Holly and Bakhari were added to the family, Mlinzi served with Mollie as a co-mother. And in 2003, ten-year-old Mlinzi became the foster mom to Tammy. Following the death of our beloved Mollie, Mlinzi is now the oldest female in the group. As the rest of the girls reach maturity they will undoubtedly be jockeying for favored status within the group. Relationships and alliances will determine the outcome. We anxiously wait to see how Mlinzi reacts to the changing dynamics within her group.