It’s a girl!
Chimpanzee Utamu gave birth to a yet-to-be-named female baby around 3:30 a.m. yesterday, October 28, 2020, at Jungle of the Apes.
The baby appears to be healthy and is clinging to mom well, according to the Zoo’s primate care team and veterinarians. The team will watch the mother and infant closely during the coming days and weeks, monitoring for nursing and observing the behavior of Utamu and the baby.
Utamu and her baby will stay in a private maternity area for some time to allow them to continue to strengthen their bond. A public debut date is not known at this time. Zoo guests may see other members of the chimpanzee troop in the outdoor habitats, weather permitting.
Check out this video of Utamu and her baby courtesy of Jungle of the Apes keepers.
Read more at: Chimpanzee Birth
Check out Utamu's Path to Motherhood from the beginning.
August 26: Utamu's Expecting
We are excited to announce that Utamu, an 18-year-old chimpanzee at the Saint Louis Zoo, is pregnant and due to give birth this fall at Jungle of the Apes. The pregnancy is based on a breeding recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan.
Photos: Ethan Riepl
September 2: Getting to know Utamu
September 9: Discovering a pregnancy
So just how did the primate care team find out that Utamu was pregnant you might wonder?
It might be helpful to begin with a little background information on chimpanzee female reproductive cycles.
Chimpanzees have about a 36-day reproductive cycle. The primate care team is able to track this cycle for all the female chimpanzees as part of our daily husbandry monitoring. When a female is ovulating or “can become pregnant,” she develops what is called an estrus swelling. Her behind swells up looking a little like a small inflated pink balloon. For the rest of her cycle, this area is deflated and has loose pink skin. Female chimpanzees also menstruate during their cycle. So if one of these events is missing or late, it can often be the first indication of a potential pregnancy to the primate care team.
Utamu with full estrus swelling.
Rosebud with no estrus swelling.
How do we confirm a chimpanzee pregnancy?
We use an at home pregnancy test, the exact same type that you would use to confirm a pregnancy for a human! Utamu is trained to urinate when asked and this can then be collected and applied to a home pregnancy test.
We also have a secondary method to confirm pregnancy:
You might not know this but the Saint Louis Zoo has its own endocrinologist, Corinne Kozlowski, Ph.D., and an endocrinology laboratory. One way to have a secondary verification of a chimpanzee pregnancy is to compare progesterone levels of a suspected pregnant chimpanzee to progesterone levels of a non-pregnant female chimpanzee. Progesterone levels rise during pregnancy. The care team is able to submit fecal samples from the chimpanzees collected during daily cleaning to the lab where Dr. Kozlowski can evaluate them.
Continue to follow Utamu: Path to Motherhood to learn more about Utamu’s pregnancy and the work being done by Saint Louis Zoo staff in preparation for the upcoming birth.
September 16: Being a Chimpanzee Mom
The length of a chimpanzee pregnancy is just slightly shorter than that of a human pregnancy at 8 months. Chimpanzee moms are very hands-on for the first several years of the infant’s life and typically have intervals of 4 to 6 years between births because of this. Even when a chimpanzee mother has another baby, the older siblings will typically still stay close to mom, giving the juvenile female offspring the opportunity to learn important skills about caring for infants that will aid them with their own offspring in the future.
Chimpanzee babies will typically nurse from their mother for up to 5 years, even after regularly eating solid foods. Chimpanzees are born with very strong grasping abilities, as they need to cling to their mother’s belly as she climbs and moves around. As they get older they will transition to riding on their mom’s back. Eventually they will start to venture off of mom to explore and play, but always staying in close range and still climbing on her back for a ride when moving from place to place.
Being a chimpanzee mom is a very important and difficult job. They may have help from other members of the troop but they are the main caretaker and are responsible for keeping their offspring safe. Mother chimpanzees are also responsible for teaching their offspring what food to eat, how to act in the social hierarchy, how to use tools, how to build nests, and a lot of other vital information that will help the young chimpanzee survive and thrive. We are looking forward to seeing what an amazing mom Utamu will be!
Utamu and Rosebud
Utamu and Rosebud
Beauty and Utamu
September 23: Lifetime of Care
At the Saint Louis Zoo we are dedicated to caring for animals, and that includes providing high quality care throughout their lifetime. For chimpanzees and other apes, this can be quite a long time, and individual animals have different requirements throughout their lives. With a multi-generational group and preparing for the birth of an infant chimpanzee, the primate care team has to make sure the habitat and care of our chimpanzee group considers each animal’s unique needs.
Since our youngest chimpanzee right now is 18, it’s been quite a while since we have had an infant chimpanzee in the group. With lots of upgrades and changes since then, the primate care team is taking a close look at the habitat to make sure it meets the needs of an infant and growing chimpanzee. Adult chimps are very agile, great climbers, very strong and intelligent. However, an infant has different needs as it grows and learns so we need to make sure the habitat is not only safe but also that it provides learning and exploration opportunities that are suitable for juvenile chimpanzee.
We are not just modifying things for the upcoming baby, though. We also have to take into consideration the needs of the older chimpanzees in the group, two of which are close to 50 years old! These older ladies aren’t as spry as they used to be, so we recently upgraded their indoor dayroom habitat to allow for easier climbing, and added resting areas at the different levels. This was an awesome project funded by a generous anonymous donor! While older chimps are still much better climbers than most of us humans could ever be, as they age they may not be able to move around quite as smoothly. We constantly look for ways to ensure the best care for every individual of our chimp troop and their different stages of life!
September 30: Chimpanzee Groups
Chimpanzees are extremely social animals. They live in groups with multiple males and multiple females, and these communities can reach over 100 individuals! During the day, different sub-groups will break off to search for food and socialize, and then come back at night to join the rest of the community. This is called fission-fusion. Our chimps at the Saint Louis Zoo are no different!
Utamu will be very protective of her new baby, but chimps close to Utamu will no doubt be spending a lot of time with Utamu and her new addition. Rosebud, the grandmother, and Beauty, another older member of the group, will no doubt dote on Utamu and the little one. Once the infant is old enough, many individuals, such as Kijana, will be excited to play with Utamu and her new baby. We can’t wait to see the new relationships that will form with a new addition to our chimpanzee group!
October 7: Getting to Know Grandma Rosebud
October 14: 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!
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.
October 21: Utamu's Ultrasound
Primate care staff train all the great apes many different veterinary and management behaviors in order to provide them with the utmost care possible. When training a chimpanzee we use positive reinforcement, which means we give them a tasty treat as a reward for participating. Each ape has their own personal favorite treats, so we like to find out what motivates each one to increase the likelihood they will choose to participate in the training sessions.
When we found out Utamu was pregnant, we began training the ultrasound behavior right away. Utamu is highly food motivated and one of her favorite treats are grapes. We began with the use of a fake ultrasound “probe.” This was a plastic case shaped similarly to a real probe, but didn’t have the added expense a real probe may have just in case in the early stages of her training Utamu happened to be interested in trying to steal the probe to investigate it. Utamu would present her belly to the front of the steel mesh barrier and I would press the “probe” onto her lower abdomen. Several other steps had to follow before performing a real ultrasound, such as adding ultrasound gel, increasing the time she allowed the “probe” on her lower abdomen and allowing the “probe” to move throughout her lower abdomen.
Once those steps were complete, we were ready to bring in a member of the veterinary team to perform a real ultrasound. However, bringing in a new person is part of the training process and she had to be desensitized, or familiarized, to their presence. Luckily, this step did not take long as she is a very relaxed chimpanzee and any additional staff present during her sessions did not seem to bother her.
Now we were ready to move forward with performing an actual ultrasound. On the day of the first ultrasound, she participated like a champ; presenting her belly, holding for several minutes at a time and allowing us to get the first images of her baby! During her sessions, one keeper is navigating the probe, another keeper is continuously giving her rewards while watching her behavior and comfort level and the veterinarian is reading and recording the ultrasound images.
We now perform regular ultrasounds to monitor the health of both Utamu and her baby and will always work to make it a positive experience for her while trying to monitor the health and well-being of the baby.
October 28: Getting Excited For the Baby
As Utamu's pregnancy approaches full term, we asked the Jungle of the Ape keepers about the pregnancy and what it means for the chimpanzee group.
Continue to follow Utamu: Path to Motherhood at stlzoo.org/utamu to learn more about Utamu’s pregnancy and the work being done by Saint Louis Zoo staff in preparation for the upcoming birth.