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assistance of Dehiwala Zoo: Chosen bond Tony and Sanju chimps get a family with the assistance of Dehiwala Zoo

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In 2012, in partnership with The Jane Goodall Institute, the Phoenix Zoo created a unique position to promote international animal welfare. Hilda Tresz, the Behavioural Enrichment and International Animal Welfare Coordinator, is responsible for developing and overseeing the Zoo’s Behavioral Enrichment programme, but also extends her work beyond the Zoo through an international role of helping zoos improve animal care. The following stories will describe the significance and logistics of this position through Hilda’s travels across the globe.

In some foreign zoos with limited knowledge and funding, animals are often housed alone in sterile environments, on bare concrete floors and with no “furniture” (climbing structures, resting platforms, visual barriers and the like). Many times they are malnourished, injured and/or have a variety of behavioural problems. To complicate matters further, when she visits one of these zoos, she typically have only one week to make improvements. In the remaining time, it is her responsibility to assess, negotiate and improvise to make immediate changes with limited available resources.

She must quickly determine how to effectively implement all necessary changes. Every zoo and every country is different when it comes to available resources. Initial doubts and fears of proposed changes by zoo staff are often evident; she must develop a working relationship with unfamiliar people in an unfamiliar setting. Suggestions that would seem to be common practices for those working in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facility in the United States are viewed as novel recommendations by many visited institutions.

Smaller groups

I visited Sri Lanka to introduce two solitary male chimpanzees to four females and to provide suggestions for improvements to the basic husbandry, enrichment, training or behavioural issues for all species in the collection.

Since the males were raised and kept alone, they had both developed some odd behaviours and tried to communicate with humans. Tony was making noises with his lips (similar to sucking on one’s teeth), perhaps to entertain himself, and Sanju made praying and kissing movements as soon as a human being approached. None of these are natural chimpanzee behaviours.

Malee was an overly aggressive female (even during the “howdy” period), sometimes biting the bars with such force that I was concerned about her breaking her teeth.

The zoo asked to create two smaller groups in order to be able to ship one group out to their Safari Park later. Kiri Menika was old, and I felt she should not be transferred to a completely new place at her age. Malee was the mother of Tony, and Pinky was the mother of Sanju. Further, the zoo had not put the females under contraception yet. Therefore, in order to create two healthy groups without inbreeding, Malee had to be introduced to Sanju and Tony would be introduced to Pinky. Lacking flexibility within introduction groups made the integrations even more challenging.

Tony was also older than Sanju and the favourite chimpanzee of the visitors, so he needed to stay.

Thus, the only option for group configuration was: Tony and Pinky were introduced without incident and their closeness grew daily, while Kiri Menika appeared indifferent.

Introducing Sanju and Malee, on the other hand, was more involved due to aggression from Malee (e.g., screaming, biting the mesh when housed next to Sanju). Because of this aggression, Malee was separated from her daughter, Masha, so Masha could get acquainted with young Sanju in hope that if Malee saw her daughter relaxed and playing, maybe aggression towards Sanju would cease. Malee became even more upset when separated from her daughter, but the step was necessary.

Positive behaviours

Every time Sanju approached Masha, she ran to the mesh to her mother, naturally making the situation even worse. Sanju and Masha were together for tense three days, warming up to each other a bit but, never overcoming the tension. When, all three were introduced. Malee spent the next five days periodically attacking Sanju.

Although it appeared to be quite vicious and the zoo management wanted to separate them, Malee was merely displaying without causing any real threat of physical harm towards Sanju. Malee was regularly chasing, hitting and biting, but was extremely careful of not penetrating the skin, and Sanju had a similar response verifying the decision to keep them together and not separate unless a serious injury was to occur