ORPHANED CHIMPANZEE FINDS HOME IN OKLAHOMA CITY ZOO
Orphaned chimpanzee finds home in Oklahoma City Zoo
Ruben's mother, Rukiya, died of a heart condition shortly after
Ruben's birth at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla. Attempts to integrate
Ruben into other troops failed before he was brought to Oklahoma City
By Matt Patterson
Published: September 17, 2012
Ruben the chimpanzee's first months in this world have been anything but easy.
His mother, Rukiya, died of a heart condition shortly after his birth
at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla. His biological father was deemed
too intense for him. And another female chimp at Busch Gardens in
Florida also was too much for the pint-size primate.
“Our two females liked him but none of them picked him up,
neither of them were that interested,” Lowry Park curator Lee Ann
Rottman said. “His father wanted to play all the time and Ruben just
wasn't ready for that.”
Rottman said one of the saddest aspects of the early part of Ruben's
life was that his mother had already been a surrogate to another baby
“We had very high hopes for her as a mom,” Rottman said.
But the now 8-month-old chimp looks to have found a home at the
Oklahoma City Zoo. Ruben arrived along with three handlers in July on a
private jet donated by a supporter of the Lowry Park Zoo.
Ruben has found a surrogate mother in Kito, who has never had any
offspring of her own. Ruben was introduced to Kito and Zoe and the rest
of their troop after three days of monitoring by zoo staff.
Kito was chosen for the role as surrogate mom because of her success
playing the role of surrogate to Siri, another chimpanzee at the zoo.
Siri was brought to the Oklahoma City Zoo after her mother's breast milk
was found to be nutritionally deficient and could not meet the growing
“We chose Kito because she has the patience of a saint,” Oklahoma
City Zoo curator Laura Bottaro said. “We knew this from how she handled
Kito and Ruben were a natural fit, Bottaro said. But Ruben had to be cared for around the clock after his arrival. Baby chimps
need to be held at all times, Bottaro said. Staffers at the zoo wore
special shirts designed to mimic the hair of chimpanzees.
“The transition from humans can be uncomfortable for the infant
because they're not sure they fit in,” Bottaro said. “Once they fit in,
they're in.” No guarantee
Curator Robin Newby said the hierarchies of chimpanzee troops can be
complex. And even though Kito had been a successful surrogate before,
there was no guarantee it would work again.
“It is very strict and complex,” Newby said. “They feel the need to
keep individuals in check at all times. There's a lot of demonstrations
either vocally or physically to accomplish that.”
Kito showed off her experience rearing
infants almost immediately. When it was bedtime, her technique to keep
Ruben near her was the same she had used for Siri.
“Her strategy is to gather all of the nice bedding material each
night, things like hay and wood wool, which is shredded wood,” Bottaro
said. “She puts that stuff around her. She never forced him. She waited
for him to come to her. She was saying to him, ‘Unless you want to sleep
on a hard floor, you have to be in my vicinity.'”
With the addition of Ruben, the zoo now has nine chimpanzees in two
troops. Ruben even bonded quickly with Mwami, the dominant male in his
troop. Mwami is protective of Ruben. They're not quite father and son,
but more like nephew and fun uncle. Mwami often pats Ruben's head and
incites him into play by doing a dance in front of him.
“The one concern I had is this infant was a male and the other two
we've had to pair with surrogates were females,” Bottaro said.
“Sometimes in the wild, if the dominant male is not the biological father, that can be a problem. But that didn't happen.” A ‘true boy'
Even as Ruben clings to the security of adults, he does venture off
on his own. Rottman said at Lowry Park, Ruben was rambunctious and a
“true boy” who loved to eat.
He has continued on that path in Oklahoma City.
“For a youngster at his age he's very independent,” Newby said.
“He'll go back to his surrogate mom for a little check-in and then he's
off playing with the dominant male.”
Ruben will remain out of public view until he is fully integrated
with all of the zoo's chimps. But that day is coming soon, Bottaro said.
And when it does it will be the final step in his journey that took him
from Florida to central Oklahoma. It also highlights the cooperation
between zoos. It was painful for Rottman to give up Ruben, but she knew
it was for the best.
“The staff here truly loved him,” Rottman said. “But we knew this was
the right decision and we had so much faith in the staff at Oklahoma
City because they've done this before. It is a truly wonderful situation
he's in now and we couldn't be more pleased and thankful for that.”