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Oklahoma City Zoo chimp's ready for her debut

CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: September 5, 2009
Nothing more could be done to save the chimpanzee Chloe, so veterinarians looked to rescue the baby inside her.

The fragile, trembling baby was weak and groggy, but she was alive. Her arrival marks the first chimpanzee born at the Oklahoma City Zoo in nearly 60 years.

She was named Zoe, in honor of her mother.

The joy of her birth was tinged by the sorrow of her mother’s death. And a difficult path lay ahead for the 3 1/2 -pound chimp. She had no mother to feed or teach her. But she’s done well, zoo officials say, and she’s expected to achieve her next big milestone within days.

After nearly a year off exhibit, Zoe is expected to make her public debut.

A normal pregnancy
Adult chimps Chloe and Mwami were brought to Oklahoma City in 2006 to breed. Their mating was part of a national plan to guarantee genetic diversity. Only about 270 chimps live in accredited zoos nationwide.

Neither Chloe nor Mwami had any offspring. Any babies they could produce would be a boost for the captive chimp gene pool, said Dwight Scott, executive director of the Oklahoma City Zoo and vice-chairman of the Ape Taxon Advisory Group, the organization that oversees the captive ape population.

Keepers discovered Chloe was expecting from a human pregnancy test in March 2008, said Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, director of veterinary services.

Chloe’s pregnancy was healthy, D’Agostino said. She ate well, moved normally and protected her body by sneaking away from the group whenever conflict arose. Keepers gave her prenatal vitamins.

Her belly grew.

But closely monitoring her development was tough, D’Agostino said. Chloe was afraid of ultrasounds, so keepers were left with observation and weight tracking.

An abnormal birth
Zookeepers discovered pools of blood in Chloe’s area the morning of Oct. 14, 2008. Veterinary staff decided to anesthetize the chimp and examine her, D’Agostino said.

Using anesthesia on a pregnant chimp can be risky to the mother and the baby, she said, but the bleeding was a bigger concern.

"If we did nothing,” she said, "we could have lost them both.”

Veterinarian staff contacted experts at OU Medical Center. A medical team went to the zoo to interpret the ultrasound images of the unconscious chimp.

Because chimps and humans are so genetically close, they share similar pregnancy risks and complications, said Dr. Elisa Crouse, a doctor at OU Physicians Women’s Health who attended Chloe. Crouse and other experts looked at the ultrasound images. Everything appeared normal. The baby was moving normally, and her heartbeat was regular. Chloe wasn’t in labor.

Everyone decided Chloe could continue with her pregnancy. She was taken from the zoo hospital back to her home at the Great EscApe exhibit.

She came to and went into respiratory and cardiac arrest, D’Agostino said. Vet staff performed CPR, but the chimp couldn’t be revived.

"We knew there was nothing we could do for Chloe at that point,” she said.

Focus turned to the baby.

The team performed an emergency cesarean section. The baby chimp — a girl — was rescued. Vet staff performed CPR. She woke up and looked groggily at her surroundings. She was given an IV and antibiotics.

She was fine. She was fully developed, breathing on her own and had no noticeable abnormalities, D’Agostino said.

"It was pretty devastating at the time,” she said. "You get attached to those animals. … On one hand, (we) were so happy to have Zoe, but at what cost?”

Within four hours, the chimp troop had lost one of its most powerful members and gained the most fragile.

Leaving a void
Chloe died of multiple complications from pregnancy, D’Agostino said.


• Habitat:
The rainforests of equatorial Africa.

• Population:
About 100,000 in the wild.

• Diet:
Everything from fruit and leaves to bugs and animals.

• Life span:
Up to 50 or 60 years.

• Height:
About 4 feet tall when standing upright.

• Weight:
90 to 130 pounds for adult males.

• Movement
: Known as "knuckle walkers” but can also walk upright.




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