Zoo's days-old chimp debuts Wednesday

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Baby Jane

Jane, the Detroit Zoo's five-day-old chimpanzee, made her public debut on schedule Wednesday, clinging to her mother in the day room of the Great Apes of Harambee exhibit.

Jane, mother Abby and two other females, Trixi and Tanya, were released into the enclosed playscape at 10:30 a.m. A zoo spokeswoman said visitors are "ooh-ing and aah-ing every time they catch a glimpse of a hand, a foot or the back of her head."

The youngest of the 251 chimpanzees residing in accredited North American zoos was born shortly after midnight Saturday. To date, say the two supervisors overseeing her care and well being, Jane is accomplishing everything she's supposed to:

Nursing and clinging to mama.

Jane, born on World Chimpanzee Day and named for renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, had the beginnings of a coming-out to her peers on Tuesday. With Jane nestled in her fur, Abby ambled to a spot where the other chimps could smell them and see them through a heavy mesh screen, said Theume, the mammal supervisor at the great apes pavilion.

"She'll pound on the window: 'Look what I have,'" Theume says. "She's showing her off."

Jane is the second child for Abby, 35, and the first in 24 years. Until Theume and mammal curator Elizabeth Arbaugh got the go-ahead from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan, a sort of simian Tinder that keeps track of genetics, compatibility and placement, Abby had spent two-plus decades receiving human birth control pills in her morning juice.

Each of the zoo's 10 mature chimps gets juice in its own color-coded plastic cup, with accompanying medication if the need arises. They all have distinct personalities and preferences; only a female named Bubbles likes orange juice, for instance, while the sometimes silly Abby might decide to drink her grape juice upside down.

Jane is years away from juice, and five or six years from being fully weaned from her mother, Arbaugh says. Near the one-year mark, she'll start sampling soft foods like mashed bananas and cooked apples.

For now, zookeepers are carefully monitoring how often and how well she nurses. The goal is every 60 to 100 minutes, one to three minutes at a time.

So far Jane is beating the standard for frequency, Theume says, and she sounds almost proud, like a soccer parent describing a goal.

The chimps are "my friends, almost. My family," Theume concedes.

They are not human. She knows that. But they are fascinating individuals, and this new one?

Jane is a chimpanzee, but Theume is eager to see what else she grows up to be.


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn