On Friday 9 October we lost an amazing member of the Monarto Chimpanzee troop.
Soona Boona as she was affectionately known arrived at Monarto in November of 2010 from the Burgers Zoo. Although Soona was born at Burgers she spent a few years at Artis Zoo prior to re-joining the Burgers females for the purpose of transfer to Australia. My first memories of Soona were her coming out of her transport box and immediately reaching through the mesh to check the locks on the quarantine facility at Adelaide Zoo. This was the first indication of Soona’s personality – highly intelligent, calculated and never missing a beat.
Soona was full of sass and she never failed to amaze us with her strength, determination and character. Soona loved enrichment and the more complex the better – she would spend hours getting every inch of food from her favoured enrichment items. Soona would always move the enrichment to a comfy spot before she started the task of working it out. She would look around, work out the best course of action and then use her sheer strength to pull items to an area where she could comfortably sit, rather than climbing and straining in awkward positions!
Soona was a keen participant in our training and conditioning program and mastered behaviours quickly. Soona had a great relationship with all of the primate keepers but undoubtedly shared a special bond with Nicky. Nicky and Soona clicked from the start and it was clear that they would seek each other out.
Soona had her contraceptive implant removed at the start of 2012. It took three years for Soona to fall pregnant and pregnancy suited her incredibly well. As we learnt the incredible news that Soona had fallen pregnant with her first infant we also discovered Zuri’s mother, Zombi, was pregnant with infant number two. Zombi and Soona became incredibly close and during the latter stages of pregnancy they were almost inseparable. I giggled to myself last week when both pregnant females and Zuri all slept together on one small fire hose platform in the dayroom. Soona also shared a particular infinity with one of our adult males Sandlai. It was thought that if Sandali rose to alpha position of the troop it would be with the support of Soona.
In the early hours of 9 October Soona went in to labour. In the dayroom area of the chimp facility we have an amazing camera system set up with infra-red light enabling us to view overnight footage. Soona however had been choosing to nest in our dens and on this night this is where she stayed and is thought to of birthed – through all the footage reviewed Soona is not seen in the dayroom. At about 5:15am Zombi heads into the dens from the dayroom and we believe that she maintained a vigil with Soona until the end. Just like us Chimpanzees show a range of emotions and our troop has shown us time and time again how strong their individual bonds are.
Until 6:15am the dayroom remains relatively empty until Gombe appears followed closely by Galatea, Boyd and Sandali. Gombe is seen to be holding and supporting what later footage confirmed is Soona’s infant. For nearly an hour and a half Gombe pops in and out of the dayroom continuing to hold the infant. Through this time we see all of the chimps apart from Zombi and Soona. Tsotsi our alpha male also only briefly makes an appearance on the footage – he too was largely in the dens with Zombi and Soona. Gombe has always had a strong affection for infants and this was also advised from his previous home at Wellington Zoo. Gombe took our breath away as we watched him on screen with Soona’s little bundle.
Just before 6:30am, Gombe moves to the favoured spot in the Chimpanzee dayroom under a window that catches the morning sun. Sandali and Galatea join him and it appears that the infant is between the three of them being groomed. Zuri also pops into the equation. At 6:30am we see Zombi appear in the dayroom, she glances at the circle of chimps and as though on a mission strides towards them. Gombe and Zombi sit together and you can see Gombe continuing to groom the infant. After a few minutes Zombi picks up the little man and she has held him ever since. Zombi has been beyond incredible – grooming, supporting and nursing the little man as though he was her own.
We could not ask for anything more from the incredible troop that we are privileged enough to have at Monarto Zoo. The best chance that Soona’s gift has to be a successful and thriving Chimpanzee is in the care of the chimps themselves. Zombi is on an incredible journey herself with her second infant due in the near future. We are monitoring her, the infant and the troop closely. Zombi is an amazing mum and since her arrival has always been the matriarch and head female of our troop. Zombi is happy to hand feed and take drinks from keepers enabling us to monitor the infant and her closely. She even nested in the dens right along where we sat and fell asleep as we watched.
I cannot thank the zoo community – staff, volunteers, members and visitors for their outpouring of support during this time. It means a great deal to the team and myself personally. It is not easy to lose a member of our hairy family. We will do our best to keep everyone up to date on the incredible journey the Monarto Chimpanzees continue to take us on.
Senior Keeper Primates, Monarto Zoo