WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Lion Country Safari welcomed a baby chimpanzee to its troop on Dec. 30, the first born at the facility in over 16 years and the only one born in 2021 at an AZA-accredited zoological park. The baby is making his debut on the island habitats in the preserve, and guests driving through the safari may see him clinging to mom.
This baby is a significant part of chimpanzee conservation, contributing to the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP), a national collaboration to save them from extinction. Chimpanzees are listed as endangered and critically endangered in some regions by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with populations decreasing due to habitat loss, poaching and disease.
Due to the status of chimpanzees in the wild and the low number of births in the population, this birth is especially rare and significant for the conservation of the species.
The baby is Irene’s first, and for the duration of the pregnancy, Lion Country Safari’s chimpanzee care team worked closely with Irene to prepare her for motherhood. Through voluntary training sessions, Irene participated in ultrasounds, infant heartbeat detection monitoring and practiced holding a stuffed animal baby to her chest for nursing.
The little one has been named “Tonk,” in honor of the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project, a conservation initiative in Sierra Leone. The Tonkolili project was co-founded by Lion Country Safari’s own Dr. Tina Cloutier Barbour, Curator of Conservation, Research and Chimpanzees and Chimpanzee SSP Coordinator.
Tonk joins a family of 2 males and 2 females. His aunt Juniper, Irene's sister, is very interested in the baby, remaining close to Irene’s side. The new mom is protective but has let Juniper touch the baby at times, and Aunt Juniper will go get food and then recline next to Irene and the baby. It’s clear Irene is enjoying her group being nearby as she embraces motherhood.
Chimpanzee gestation is approximately 8 months. At birth, chimpanzees weigh approximately 4 pounds (1.8 kg). Infants cling to their mothers off and on for the first few years but will stay closely attached for the first four months before becoming more independent.
Lion Country Safari is home to 17 chimpanzees and is a proud participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan and the Chimpanzee Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Program. Lion Country Safari is also proud to support the Tonkolili Chimpanzee Project.