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Newborn at Zoo is healthy chimpanzee after mother’s 2019 loss

FOREST PARK – The St. Louis Zoo has a new resident: a female chimpanzee born about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday at Jungle of the Apes.

The newborn’s mother is Utamu (pronounced oo-TAH-moo), 18, and this is her second baby. But her first, born in September 2019, was stillborn or died shortly after birth.

“We are all very happy to have a new baby in the troop and it is so great to see Utamu become a mother,” Heidi Hellmuth, the zoo’s curator of primates, said in a statement Thursday.

The new baby chimp seems to be healthy and is bonding with her mother, the Zoo’s primate care team and veterinarians said. They’ll keep the pair under a close eye for the coming weeks to be sure nursing and other care is going well.

Mother-baby bonding is vital, the zoo explains, not only for the infant’s health but because female chimpanzees learn parenting skills chiefly from their mothers. So Utamu’s loving care is key.

The meaning of her name – “sweetness” in Swahili – offers a hopeful symbol for the future. Baby’s name, if she has one already, hasn’t yet been announced.

Mother and baby will stay in a private maternity area, away from other members of the chimpanzee troop, until caregivers judge them ready to rejoin the others. The date of the baby’s public debut will be determined later.

“We are hopeful that everything will continue to go well for both mom and baby. The next couple of months are critical,” said Helen Boostrom, Zoological Manager of Primates at the zoo.  “Our highly skilled, experienced primate care team has built strong, trusting relationships with the chimpanzees, which are integral to providing the high level of care and training involved in preparing Utamu for birth and rearing her infant.”

Chimpanzees are a critically endangered species. This birth was planned through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, which aims to manage a genetically healthy chimpanzee population.

Many chimps in captivity live into their late 30s, and “healthy females maintain high birth rates late into life,” according to a study comparing the process of menopause in humans and chimpanzees. So Utamu has many years of potential motherhood ahead.

Utamu and her own mother, Rosebud, arrived at the zoo from Miami in 2007. The newborn’s “presumed father,” the zoo said, is Kijana (pronounced kih-JAH-nah and meaning “youth”), 28. But there are other males in the troop, so a paternity test will be done when the baby is older.

For more on Utamu and to follow the zoo’s chimpanzees, go to stlzoo.org/UtamuFacebook.com/stlzooTwitter.com/stlzoo and Instagram.com/stlzoo.


June Heath


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