Detroit Zoo's new baby chimp finds easy fit with adoptive mom

The Detroit News

A baby chimpanzee has found a new mom at the Detroit Zoo, five months after he was nurtured 24/7 by zoo staff.

That's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, feeding, caring for and planning the transition to adoptive care for five months during a pandemic, said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society.

“It’s a story of great dedication,” said Carter. “Nights, weekends and through a pandemic — Detroit Zoo primate staff cared for the baby chimpanzee around the clock. And now it’s a very heartwarming story of a baby who has found a devoted, adoptive chimp mom and family.”

Baby Zane was born Jan. 7 to Chiana. Soon after Zane's birth, Chiana, 26, became ill and unable to care for her newborn, the zoo said. After her medical treatment, which was successful, Chiana, also the mother of 6-year-old Zuhura, was uninterested in caring for her newborn. That's when the zoo's primate staff began tending to him.

Part of the routine included carrying Zane "constantly, as a mother chimp would" and teaching him how to bottle feed. He lived in the Great Apes of Harambee building instead of a nursery so he could be around other chimps and they could become accustomed to him.

“Every day, the other chimpanzees could see us caring for him,” said Carter. “He was always near the other chimps even though they physically could not be together.”

The zoo sought advice on how to integrate a rejected infant into social groups from the Association of Zoo & Aquariums' Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan and other zoos. The Detroit Zoo staff studied potential surrogate moms in its 11-member chimpanzee troop and gauged responses to Zane. 

Mother and daughter Trixi, 50, and Tanya, 29, adult females in the troop, rose to the top of the list after showing interest almost immediately, the zoo said.

"From their first physical interaction, it was clear that 5-month-old Zane had found his new adoptive family.

“Zane approached and hugged Trixi and Tanya the minute he had the chance,” said Carter. “Trixi is Zane’s primary caregiver, while Tanya, who has never had a baby of her own, loves playing with Zane, napping with him, and carrying him for short periods.”