29 Dec 2016

During this time some chimps can show increased aggression towards one another, which is normal behaviour as the complex hierarchies within the group are established.

Collections director, Mike Jordan, explains:

“Genetic analysis of chimpanzees in zoos across Europe, spanning several years, has recently confirmed exactly which subspecies are found in different zoos. The work has informed us that the chimps we have at Chester are the highly threatened subspecies known as the Western chimpanzee – one of the rarest in the world. It means that our group of chimps is even more important to conservation breeding than was ever thought. Essentially, this careful assessment of the genetics of all of our chimps – part of a Europe-wide project – has established that we have a critically important breeding population of known origin that can have the greatest possible conservation impact in the future. 

“As a result of this we are making changes to our chimpanzee group to ultimately keep and breed a pure group of Western chimps to act as a conservation insurance population for the future. This will involve having to move a few individuals in and out of the zoo’s group to ensure our population is of the upmost benefit to the conservation of chimpanzees.

“Back in July, 33-year-old female chimp Kiki and 20-year-old female Vila therefore arrived from a zoo in Sweden as part of this international breeding programme for this endangered subspecies.

“Over a number of months we’ve then carefully, and very gradually, introduced Kiki and Vila to different members of the group – up to the point where we’ve happily managed to get the whole group together. 

“Their arrivals have meant that our chimpanzee group is currently going through a transition period as various individuals vie for different rankings. The chimps can sometimes become very rough with one another as they iron this out amongst themselves, which is all part of how chimps integrate. 

“In the wild, young chimps in particular will move between groups and similar squabbles will ensue until they are fully accepted and fully settled. Although our group is a little un-cohesive at the moment, in time, they will settle down again.

“Some of our primate keepers have over 40 years of experience of working with chimps and, along with our veterinary team, are carefully monitoring the group.”

Chester Zoo is actively involved in the conservation of some of the world’s rarest chimpanzee subspecies in the wild and, for more than 20 years, has supported the last stronghold of the rarest chimpanzee subspecies, the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, in Gashaka Gumti National park in Nigeria.