A CRITICALLY endangered Western chimpanzee has been born at Chester Zoo.
The baby was safely delivered by 43-year-old mum, Mandy, overnight on Friday, August 21, following an eight-and-a-half-month pregnancy.
Primate experts at the zoo are yet to determine the sex of the new arrival but have declared the birth as a ‘hugely significant’ for the species.
New estimates suggest that as few as 18,000 Western chimpanzees remain in Africa and it’s the first subspecies of chimpanzee to be added to the list of critically endangered apes.
Andy Lenihan, team manager of the primates section at Chester Zoo, said: “Mandy is a wonderful mum. She’s bonded instantly with her new baby and can be seen protectively cradling it in her left arm at all times.
“It’s a little too soon to tell if her new arrival is male or female as a newborn chimpanzee will remain in the arms of mum for several months until they develop the confidence to start exploring independently. Most importantly though, it’s bright eyed, alert and getting stronger by the day.
“A new arrival always creates a lot of excitement – it’s a real extended-family affair as many of the females in the group often want to help to take care of the newcomer while, for some of the juveniles, seeing a mum with a new baby is a completely new experience.
“It’s great to see the other youngsters watching Mandy closely and learning from such a natural mother.”
A scientific research project, carried out over a decade, has carefully assessed the genetics of all the chimpanzees living in European zoos. The study has confirmed that the genetic make-up of the group at Chester Zoo is vital to the future of the Western chimpanzee subspecies.
Mike Jordan, Chester Zoo animal and plant director, said: “We’re incredibly proud to see a precious new baby in the group – it’s a hugely significant addition and a big boost for this species.
“The chimpanzees here at Chester are a key part of the international efforts working to ensure there’s a viable safety-net population of these critically endangered animals.
“In the wild, the Western chimpanzee is under huge threat from hunting, the illegal bush meat trade and extensive habitat loss – all a result of human activity.
“Western chimpanzee populations have declined extremely quickly and continue to do so – with little or no prospect of this decline halting. It makes the conservation populations in zoos extremely important for the future.
“In tandem with the endangered species breeding programme, involving many of the world’s most progressive zoos, our conservation teams are working alongside our partners in Uganda, Nigeria and Gabon to help protect chimpanzees and their forest homes.”
The Western chimpanzee is found in West Africa – ranging from Senegal to Ghana – but is already believed to be extinct in Benin, Burkina Faso and Togo.
Chester Zoo is actively involved in the conservation of some of the world’s rarest chimpanzees in Africa, including its vital 20-year-long support for the last stronghold of another species, the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee, in Gashaka Gumti National park in Nigeria.