How A Female Chimpanzee Became Mother To Two Newborns
October 13, 2021
Female chimpanzee Kitoko is currently looking after two little ones at once. When heavily pregnant, she promptly adopted the son of her sister Fifi, who was unable to look after her newborn for health reasons.
On 26 June, 28-year-old female chimpanzee Fifi gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Everything seemed to have gone well, except for the fact that Fifi handed her baby over to other members of the group unusually early. However, Fifi continued to regularly suckle the little one. After around two weeks, Fifi became weak and developed a limp in her hind legs. Although the zoo vet gave Fifi intensive care, she showed no signs of improvement. The vet could not find any cause for Fifi’s symptoms. At the end of July, the zoo keepers noticed that Kitoko, Fifi’s sister, was caring for the newborn the majority of the time and had even begun to suckle it. A few days later, Kitoko gave birth to her own baby boy, who she initially appeared to ignore. However, father Kume (18) and other members of the group insisted that Kitoko should look after the young male. Experienced mother Kitoko has been taking care of the two little ones ever since. Both are doing well and developing normally. The young female is called Sangala and Kitoko's son is named Sabaki.
Adoption in the wild
Chimpanzees will sometimes also adopt babies in the wild. Baby chimpanzees are dependent on their mothers for the first six years of their lives. If the mothers die prematurely, the young animal’s chances of survival in the wild fall dramatically. If other members of the group adopt the orphaned little one, their chances of survival remain high.
However, orphaned offspring that are adopted are usually somewhat older than this – there are only two known instances in the wild of young aged under two being adopted. Scientific studies have shown that the chances of adoption in the wild are higher among related animals, and that adoptions by sisters of the deceased mother are particularly successful.
The fact that Sangala was adopted by Kitoko as a newborn is most likely thanks to the circumstances in the zoo. In the wild, the dying mother would have distanced herself from the group and taken her little one with her. The available resources and group dynamic at Basel Zoo enabled Kitoko to take on her sister’s baby. As Kitoko was expecting a baby of her own, she was prepared to look after the little one.
Using human medicine
Even after further medical examinations, including with the help of gynaecologists and cardiologists working in human medicine, Fifi has still not been diagnosed. Thanks to the vets’ care, she is now doing much better, with the exception of the lameness in her hind legs. The veterinary team is still working to establish a diagnosis.