July 12, 2018

By Helen Boostrom, Zoological Manager of Primates

Kijana is a 26-year-old male chimpanzee that recently moved to Saint Louis from Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas. His move was based on a recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program to manage a genetically healthy chimpanzee population.

Kijana is very socially savvy. He immediately formed a close relationship with Hugo, the dominant male, and often spends time near him. When he is not following Hugo around, Kijana can be spotted grooming or playing with Jimiyu, another male, or several of the females in the group.

Chimpanzees are very social, living in groups with both males and females. Alliances and relationships between members of a chimpanzee community are very important. Chimps have a variety of ways to reinforce these bonds, such as grooming or playing. Communication also plays a vital role in these large communities. Chimpanzees have a diverse vocabulary of vocalizations, facial expressions and gestures to facilitate successful communication within the community.

The importance of relationships was considered carefully by animal care staff when integrating Kijana into the chimpanzee group. He was initially introduced to Hugo, 25, and the two were given the opportunity to bond as a pair. Because Hugo is highly respected by the rest of the group, his acceptance and support of Kijana were considered by animal care staff to be important for Kijana’s integration into the group.

Next, the remaining male, Jimiyu, 26, was added to form a male group. The three were then given a chance to bond for several weeks. During this time, animal care staff watched closely and saw positive social interactions between all three males. Often they were seen playing chase and wrestling as well as foraging and grooming together.

Once the males had a chance to form strong bonds with Kijana, animal care staff started integrating the females into the group. At each addition, current alliances, group dynamics, and individual personalities as well as keeper observations were carefully considered and discussed by the team before moving to the next introduction.

Similar to chimpanzee communities, teamwork and communication between the animal care staff was vital to the success of the introduction process. Each day, the great ape keepers met and discussed observations from previous days as well as potential plans for the day. Daily, great ape keepers work together as a team to provide high quality care to the orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees at the Saint Louis Zoo. This high standard of care has continued throughout Kijana’s integration.

Kijana can now be seen foraging and interacting daily with his new family in the chimpanzee habitat at Fragile Forest!

World Chimpanzee Day

Kijana’s addition to the St. Louis community is perfectly timed with the first-ever celebration of World Chimpanzee Day on July 14th. World Chimpanzee Day is a global celebration of chimpanzees as well as  an opportunity to raise awareness about the vital need for worldwide participation in their care, protection and conservation in the wild and in captivity.

What can you do to help chimpanzees?

Good question! We are often asked what people in Missouri can do to help chimpanzees in Africa. Chimpanzees are highly endangered. Today, there are as few as 350,000 wild chimpanzees across the continent of Africa.

You are already taking the first step by learning more about them. Sharing this knowledge with others and raising awareness about habitat loss and the illegal pet and bushmeat trades is one way you can help.

Another easy step: recycle your old cell phones and electronics. One of the major components of cell phone batteries is columbite tantalite, a mineral mined in chimpanzee habitats. By recycling your old cell phones, portions of them can be reused, meaning less mining and disruption of their homes. These can be recycled right here at the Saint Louis Zoo at the North & South entrances.

Photos by Robin Winkelman