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October 14, 2020

Utamu: Path to Motherhood Part VIII

"It Takes a Village"

One of the things that not everyone realizes is how many teams and staff at the Saint Louis Zoo are involved and work together with the Primate Care Team to provide care to the apes and to prepare for a chimpanzee birth. We’d like to highlight three of these amazing teams!

The Saint Louis Zoo has a remarkable Nutrition department led by Debra Schmidt, Ph.D., William R. Orthwein, Jr. Family Animal Nutritionist. This team works every day to make sure all the animals in the Zoo have healthy diets tailored to their individual needs, both by working with the animal care staff to develop diets and by prepping and delivering these food items daily to all of the animal areas. This includes adapting their diets at different stages in their lives, such as Utamu’s pregnancy. One of the additions made to Utamu’s diet related to her pregnancy includes a daily pre-natal vitamin.  

The chimpanzee group gets fresh produce and greens delivered daily along with nutritionally complete biscuits and a variety of forage and browse items.

Another incredible group that contributes to the chimpanzees’ care at the Zoo is our Horticulture team. Many people notice the beautiful flowers and greenery around the zoo but don’t realize the work this team also contributes to the safety and care of the animals. The horticulturists work with the animal care teams to make sure that the plants within the animals’ habitats are safe for the species that live there. They regularly work in the habitats to make sure that nothing is growing within them that shouldn’t be and to keep the plants that should be in the habitat healthy. This can be a challenging task especially with animals as inquisitive and active as primates that love to use these trees and plants to climb, swing, snack, make tools and play!

Last but definitely not least is the Facilities Management team! This large crew is divided into various specialties and not only works to keep everything functioning, but this creative department also works with the animal care staff to develop innovative ideas to improve animal care. We mentioned in a recent post the addition of new perching in the chimpanzees’ indoor habitat to make it more accessible for the chimpanzees as they get older. This collaborative effort was a multi-step process, starting with the maintenance and care teams meeting to discuss the needs of the chimpanzees and how they use their existing habitat. Then came a test phase where a few of the ideas were installed and the chimpanzees given access for several days to determine which type of perching the chimpanzees preferred and utilized. Facilities Management helps support the animals behind-the-scenes as well, including specialized modifications to support Utamu’s pregnancy.  One of the many items created and installed by the welding team in preparation for a chimpanzee pregnancy and birth was a special training port and shelf for ultrasounds to aid in monitoring the pregnancy. These features have allowed the veterinary and primate teams to monitor Utamu’s pregnancy – stay tuned, more about this in a future installment! 

Continue to follow Utamu: Path to Motherhood at to learn more about Utamu’s pregnancy and the work being done by Saint Louis Zoo staff in preparation for the upcoming birth.

Photo 1: Drew in Animal Nutrition preparing produce for our apes.
Photo 2: Horticulture taking care of the habitat.
Photo 3: Steve in Horticulture taking care of the habitat.
Photo 4: Indoor habitat perching.
Photo 5: John and Colton in Facilities Management working on indoor habitat perching.
Photo 6: Drew in Facilities Management working on the ultrasound port.
Photo 7: Derek and Jeff in Facilities Management working on the ultrasound shelf.
Photo 8: New door for ultrasound port.