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Chimp overcomes odds to thrive at Oklahoma City Zoo

A geriatric chimp in a Kansas zoo unexpectedly gave birth, and officials asked the Oklahoma City Zoo to save the underweight, struggling baby. Siri lost her arm in an accident and died twice during the amputation surgery. But now she's recovering, eating and fitting in.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: August 22, 2011

Surprisingly, Siri's genes are perfectly normal, D'Agostino said.

But she had plenty of challenges.

Zoo officials called on an array of medical experts from throughout the metro to help build her muscles, check her development and encourage her eating.

“Her head started filling out,” said Davis, the ape supervisor. “She grew into normal proportions. It was cool to see.”

It was time for her to meet the other chimps.

That's when she lost her arm.

Another roadblock

Siri was introduced to the other chimps through a fence-like mesh.

Kito, a 24-year-old female, was the most interested. Three years ago, Kito had wanted to be a surrogate mother to a chimpanzee named Zoe, when the chimp's mother died suddenly during childbirth. But another female chimp had already bonded with the baby.

So the appearance of Siri was especially exciting. Davis said. Kito sat at the mesh, anxiously adoring the little chimp. They touched and looked at one another. Siri stretched out her arm, and Kito pulled.

“Kito wanted her and just pulled,” Davis said. “Her arm was just so small. It just couldn't take it. Kito did not want that to happen.”

Siri's forearm was destroyed.

Kito retreated out of confusion and fear, Davis said.

Zoo staff whisked her to the zoo's veterinary hospital and called in an orthopedic surgeon.

Then Siri's heart stopped beating. Veterinarians revived her with CPR. Her heart stopped again. She was revived again.

Zoo staff talked about whether it was all too much. If she survived, would it be a life worth living? Would she make it?

“Everybody said, ‘Let's let Siri decide,'” said Davis. “It was amazing that she even came back twice. This chimp really wanted to live.”

Finding a family

Siri's arm was amputated above the elbow successfully, and once again, the chimp surprised everyone around her. She went right back to eating and didn't give her shortened arm a second thought.

Siri grew strong and eventually was ready to go in with other chimps without the fence separation.

Kito — the one who crushed her arm accidentally — took her under her wing immediately. Another adult chimp, Mwami, doted on her, too. Eventually the zoo's young chimp, Zoe, was introduced.

The chimps don't mind her missing arm one bit, Davis said. They play with it, groom it and mouth it. One chimp even shakes it like a hand.

Her adopted mother is especially kind. “Kito is so good about knowing when Siri needs the extra support,” Davis said.

Kito allows Siri to ride high up on her neck, so Siri can use her shorter arm to wrap around her mother's neck.

The other chimps will be introduced one by one, Davis said.

Siri could come out on public display in the next couple of weeks depending on her health and the weather, Davis said.

She's healthy and growing steadily, said D'Agostino, the veterinarian. Vets and keepers still keep a close eye on her to make sure she's going in the right direction.

“I think she'll be normal. She'll just be small,” D'Agostino said. “She's a tough little chimp.”