The stork delivered an unexpected Valentine to Chimp Haven, The National Chimpanzee Sanctuary, on February 14, 2012. Care givers arrived early in the morning to find Flora, a 29-year-old former research chimpanzee, clutching a new female baby chimpanzee. The infant appears healthy, is clinging to her mother’s stomach and eating well.
Chimp Haven is a 200-acre wooded facility in Northwest Louisiana for chimpanzees primarily retired from research. To assure that it remains a retirement community, all of its males are vasectomized. Clearly, someone’s vasectomy was unsuccessful.
“We do not know who the father is,” explains Chimp Haven President, Dr. Linda Brent. “We will be conducting DNA analysis as quickly as possible so that we can determine the father of the newborn and address his failed vasectomy.” She said that the staff is also running pregnancy tests on all the other females in Flora’s social group. So far, they are negative.
While every effort is made to prevent unwanted pregnancies in chimpanzee sanctuaries, occasionally newborns appear on the scene as a result of a vasectomy that was unsuccessful.
“We take our responsibility to prevent pregnancies very seriously, but sometimes life finds a way,” says Brent. “The new baby will be given the best care possible and will be raised by her mother in our forested habitat similar to a wild chimpanzee.” Flora lives in the same social group as Tracy, a chimpanzee youngster at Chimp Haven who was born unexpectedly five years ago. DNA testing pointed to Conan as her father; he was immediately re-vasectomized. Today, Tracy is an independent, lively chimpanzee who spends her days swinging from the trees in her spacious, wooded habitat. Her mother, Teresa, died a year ago, but the social group with which they lived stepped up and continued to look after Tracy.
Flora gave birth 20 years ago to a male chimpanzee while she was still living at a laboratory. By all reports, she was a good mother. “She appears to know the right things to do,” says Kathleen Taylor, Chimp Haven’s Colony Manager. “She is very attentive to the baby and is breast feeding her. We are giving her as much privacy as possible, as she becomes anxious when too many people are around.” Flora has a history of intensely disliking cameras; so, it has been impossible to take a photograph of the baby so far. If the baby looks anything like her mother, she will have a distinctive silvery brown coat – unusual for a chimpanzee.
The baby has not yet been named. Hoping that someone will come forward to pledge lifetime support for the new baby (approximately $12,000/year), Chimp Haven is reserving naming rights for the lifetime donor. “Whoever ‘adopts’ this baby will be like a grandparent who can have wonderful visits with the family and leave the feeding, child rearing, and discipline up to Flora and the Chimp Haven care staff,” promises Brent.