Two New Chimp Babies at Gombe!

Friday, October 8, 2010 - 11:26am

Exciting news! Today we learned about the second baby chimpanzee born at Gombe National Park. Bahati was sighted with a newborn a few days ago. The baby is estimated to be one week old. In the last month, Fanni also gave birth. Matthew Heintz, a graduate student from the Lincoln Park Zoo, wrote the report below from the field.

Mtoto Mpya Mwengine (Another New Child)
Contributor: Matthew Heintz, Lincoln Park Zoo

September 26, 2010

My field assistant, Deo, was the first one to spot Fanni with her new baby. When I received the radio message I ran to him as fast as I could but being careful not to trip on rocks or roots on the trail along the way. When I arrived, it was an amazing sight; I assumed that the baby was not much more than 24-hours old because the umbilical cord was still hanging from the infant. All four of Fanni’s older offspring were highly interested in the new baby and spent much of the time within close proximity to Fanni and, as usual with the F-family, everyone spent a lot of time grooming everyone else. In addition, all of the offspring spent plenty of time investigating and staring at the baby, but Fanni seemed to have a strict ‘look but don’t touch’ rule. Currently, we are not sure if the baby is a boy or girl, but even at this point some of the well-experienced Tanzanian data collectors have made predictions not only of the gender, but also of the father. From the looks that I have gotten of the baby during its first few days of life, I am guessing he is a boy but we will not be able to assign paternity until we can collect a fecal sample from the newborn.

Because I study play behavior, my biggest interest in the F-family is observing Fadhila. She is at her playing prime. (Infant chimpanzees play the most at around two years of age.) But since she is currently being weaned, Fadhila has taken a break from playing and is spending more time foraging and keeping a close eye on mom so she can still hitch a ride from Fanni (see photo). I definitely feel for Fadhila. At one point, Fadhila either tried to nurse or got too close to the new baby and Fanni hit/bit her and gave Fadhila a small cut underneath her eye. Regardless of the number of times I have seen infants/juveniles take ‘suicidal’ jumps out of trees or get banged around during play, this was the first time that I have seen an infant with any sort of injury. Fanni must be doing something right, however, because she is having babies at a faster rate than any other mom. Most chimpanzee inter-birth-intervals are between four and five years, but Fanni just had a new baby and Fadhila does not turn three until November.

Fanni definitely has a huge maternal workload with two dependent offspring. Currently, Fadhila will ride on Fanni’s back as the new baby grips tightly onto Fanni’s stomach. There is an obvious struggle though as I have seen Fanni try to unsuccessfully pull Fadhila off of her back. I have also seen on multiple occasions Fadhila grip Fanni’s hair on her shoulders with both fists and try to push Fanni forward as if Fadhila was trying to motivate Fanni to move onward so Fadhila could ride on her back. I assume there might have been a delayed response due to Fanni fatigue. All struggles aside, everyone seems to be doing very well and the family looks healthy. While the new baby is not yet named, I have put in the suggestion for ‘Fifty’ since this year marks the 50th anniversary of chimpanzee research at Gombe National Park.


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