Brave Boon

Last week, I compiled an article to update everyone on the continuation of the Monarto Chimpanzee journey over the last few weeks.  It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of Boon’s passing in the early hours of Sunday morning (25 October).

As we know, Boon was born on 9 October and sadly his mum Soona passed away shortly after birth due to birthing complications.  Our heavily pregnant female Zombi then fostered Boon and raised him for 11 days.  Due to Zombi being heavily pregnant herself; while she still had her placenta attached she could not produce milk but was producing colostrum to support Boon.

As Boon grew, colostrum was not enough to sustain him and the difficult and complex decision was made to temporarily retrieve Boon from Zombi.  On the evening of 19 October we worked with our vet team to lightly sedate Zombi to retrieve Boon.

Through our training and conditioning program and knowledge of the chimps we were able to get Zombi in to a safe place to do this, separate from the troop, without issue.  The remaining Chimpanzee troop could see the whole proceedings but to ensure Zombi’s safety, and ours, they of course had to be in a separate area.

Boon was successfully retrieved and went into 24-hour keeper care.

In another turn of events, Zombi gave birth the same night to a healthy baby boy.  When Zombi gave birth she was still separated from the troop to recover from the sedative required to retrieve Boon.  In normal circumstances we would not separate our females from the troop to birth but as with all things over the last few weeks, ‘normal’ would not be a word used to describe it!

The next morning she was successfully introduced back to the troop and all were excited to have her back and interested in the new little bundle of joy.  Through this whole process Zombi’s three-year-old daughter was supported and cared for by the other Chimpanzee troop members.  A special mention must go to our alpha male, Tsotsi, and our other adult female, Galatea for their attention to her during this period.

Zombi and her new infant are doing well – she truly is an amazing mum and matriarch of our troop.

Boon himself had already been on an incredible journey – through losing his mum, to being cared for by Gombe, fostered by Zombi and then living 24/7 in the chimp building alongside the troop with a human carer.  Despite it all, he continued to fight and amazed us with his resilience.

Even though Boon was being cared for by keepers, he was still part of his hairy family and a key priority was to introduce him back to the troop as soon as he was strong enough to do so.  The aim was to treat Boon as similar as possible to how his Chimpanzee mother would care for him to assist the transition from us back to a Chimpanzee surrogate.

Boon ebbed and flowed in his recovery and we worked around the clock with our incredible vets and vet nurses with support from paediatricians to provide him with the best chance of recovery.  Boon spent time alongside his chimp family every day.  Through it all the chimps always knew we had him and never showed any signs of unrest towards us.

We have no doubt that they were aware that we were trying to help.

On Sunday (25 October) morning we took Boon to see his Chimpanzee family one last time.  The chimps gathered around as I showed them that Boon had gone.  A few of our Chimpanzees got small sticks and gently poked Boon.  When Zombi approached she took the sticks out of each chimp’s hand and pulled their fingers down from the mesh.

This allowed me to hold Boon up as close as possible so they could smell and gently check him out.  They acknowledged his passing and we allowed them to all view him as long as they felt they needed.  We used them as the cue for when to move away.

The sticks with which they were touching Boon and smelling, gave us the cue to rub him with bits of material and pass them through the mesh.  The chimps also took the blankets that Boon had been wrapped in.  As Boon was carried off, Sandali let out a hoot call (a call of farewell and recognition of the situation).

Before I left for the day, I went back to check in on the hairy ones.  Tsotsi our alpha male sat at the dens and offered his hand for me to safely touch the back of his fingers.  His gesture let me know they knew.

I cannot thank everyone enough for the support that has been so kindly offered over the last few weeks.  It has been appreciated and made the days easier.  We have been in contact with people around the world who have all shared their knowledge and experience so willingly.

To our Vet Team, each and every one of you have been on this journey with us and we thank you for all that you tried to do.

To our Monarto Zoo Primate Team – Lisa, Jon, Nicky, Tom, Christy, Vaughan, Heidi, Althea and Beth – I have nothing but the utmost respect for you all.

To the broader zoo community – staff, volunteers and members – thank you.

Lastly to the hairy ones as we battled with the loss of Soona.  You amazed us with your care of Boon; as we faced the challenge of taking over care of him you gave us the gift of a new life right before our eyes; as we struggle with the loss of Boon you grieved for him in the most beautiful way and show us once again just how privileged we are even through our darkest moments.

Thank you.

Laura Hanley
Senior Keeper Primates, Monarto Zoo


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