Love is in the air?

February 11, 2009 § 1 Comment


Ah l’amour! As the rest of the world prepares for Valentines Day (or prepares to ignore it!), the residents of Edinburgh Zoo have been happily carrying on, none the wiser this week.


With just a month until the ‘official’ start of the Edinburgh Zoo Penguins breeding season (marked in early March when the keepers lay out nest rings for the penguins), these playful birds have been making the most of their current care-free, single status!


And the recent weather has certainly helped! On Monday 9th February, Edinburgh experienced a particularly heavy snow fall. This provides fantastic enrichment for all of our penguins, encouraging them to show off their natural behaviours such as chasing, belly sliding and investigating!


Playing in the snow – even Penguins have snowball fights!

 Playing in the snow – even Penguins have snowball fights!


However, the Penguin keepers decided that perhaps they could join their animals, in enjoying a little bit of fun too. They fashioned a ‘Snow Penguin’ within the enclosure for the penguins to investigate. The bravest and most curious of the birds then enjoyed themselves by pecking away at this mysterious ‘newcomer’ until they were satisfied that it was only snow!


A curious Gentoo Penguin watches on as the keepers make the final touches to their ‘Snow Penguin’ 

A curious Gentoo Penguin watches on as the keepers make the final touches to their ‘Snow Penguin’


The bravest penguins cautiously approach the ‘Snow Penguin’

The bravest penguins cautiously approach the ‘Snow Penguin’


We are pleased to announce that our Bush dogs have again enjoyed breeding success! After giving birth to a female pup in only July last year, the Bush dogs have been joined once more by the pitter patter of tiny feet. However, this time they have welcomed not one puppy, but four! At the moment both mother and puppies are keeping themselves hidden away in their inside enclosure, and we do not expect them to begin venturing out for another 4 – 6 weeks. However, we will keep you updated on their progress and will let you know when you can expect to begin seeing them out and about!


An adult Bush Dog ‘sniffs out’ its enclosure 

 An adult Bush Dog ‘sniffs out’ its enclosure


You may recall that a couple of weeks ago our dominant male Chimpanzee, Qafzeh, underwent a vasectomy operation to prevent him from breeding. (See ‘January Continues…’ for the previous story.) In order for this procedure to be carried out Qafzeh was anaesthetized and separated from the rest of the chimp group for 5 hours. The operation went very smoothly, and once the vet team were happy with Qafzeh’s condition, he was released back into the group. Since then Qafzeh has recovered very well. He managed not to open his stitches in the week after the operation… a common problem with primates, and the two incisions made to vasectomise him healed very quickly. The vets advised a short course of painkillers and antibiotics to make him more comfortable in the ensuing days, and also to prevent any infection settling in. He was a very willing patient, and the keepers slipped the medecine into a banana sandwich, which he took great delight in eating


On a seperate note, over the last few months, Kindia has been making his presence known in the group. He is an up-and-coming young male, and needs to find his place within the group. He has been displaying a lot recently, which is perfectly natural for a chimp of his age. Males typically ‘display’ to one another using body language, facial expressions and by making as much noise as possible! They do this to assert their dominance or hierarchical position within a group. 


On Qafzeh’s return to the group, fighting broke out between Qafzeh, Kindia, Louis and David. (Louis and David are older males within the group, who previously held dominant positions, and still like to make their presence known from time to time!) Qafzeh’s immediate reaction was to climb to the top of one of the climbing structures and sit in a nest-ring, ‘fear grinning’ at the other chimps. He did not attempt to engage in any sort of counter-attack or defend himself from the other males’ advances. Luckily, his mother, Emma, who is the dominant female in the group, did defend him.


Eventually the two older males, Louis and David stopped their attack and ‘made-up’ with Qafzeh, by demonstrating submissive behaviours and grooming him.


However, by the end of the day Kindia had still not submitted to Qafzeh.  Although Kindia has been causing concern for Qafzeh for some time now, it seems he saw an opportunity not to back down to Qafzeh, while he was still feeling vulnerable in his post-op state. This resulted in a number of skirmishes between Kindia and Qafzeh and in defence of their sons, Lyndsey and Emma.  This carried on for almost a week, with minor skirmishes between the four chimps, which would inevitably involve the whole group, until finally Qafzeh and Kindia were seen grooming together.


 Qafzeh keeps a wary eye open while enjoying some fruit

Qafzeh keeps a wary eye out while enjoying some fruit


For now, it seems that Qafzeh’s position as dominant male is more secure and relative peace has been restored to the group. Although what will happen in the future remains to be seen. Qafzeh is keeping a close eye on Kindia, and trying to make sure he is a friend, not a foe. Louis is causing the most upset of late, displaying at Qafzeh every now and then.

Claire, Senior Keeper for the Budongo Trail said, “It is brilliant to see this natural behaviour in a captive group of chimps – they are going through the same challenges that their wild cousins would face, and dealing with the politics in the same way.”


During this period of unrest, the chimps can be fairly aggressive towards each other, and if you visit the zoo you may see a few battered and bruised individuals. Chimpanzees heal very quickly, so what appears to be a nasty cut, isn’t actually as bad to a chimp. The keepers and vets are on hand to administer medecine and patch up and bad wounds as needed, but it is much better to let the chimps sort it out for themselves – if we try to intervene we could potentially do more damage.


We will keep you updated on the ongoing dominance struggle, as it develops, right here!




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§ One Response to Love is in the air?

  • Simon says:

    As a member, volunteer and regular visitor I’m loving this blog as it fills in all the gaps of what’s going on between talks, training events and volunteer shifts. Keep up the good work.

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