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Orphaned chimpanzee finds home in Oklahoma City Zoo

Ruben's mother, Rukiya, died of a heart condition shortly after Ruben's birth at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla. Attempts to integrate Ruben into other troops failed before he was brought to Oklahoma City in July.
by Matt Patterson Published: September 17, 2012

Kito showed off her experience rearing infants almost immediately. When it was bedtime, her technique to keep Ruben near her was the same she had used for Siri.

“Her strategy is to gather all of the nice bedding material each night, things like hay and wood wool, which is shredded wood,” Bottaro said. “She puts that stuff around her. She never forced him. She waited for him to come to her. She was saying to him, ‘Unless you want to sleep on a hard floor, you have to be in my vicinity.'”

With the addition of Ruben, the zoo now has nine chimpanzees in two troops. Ruben even bonded quickly with Mwami, the dominant male in his troop. Mwami is protective of Ruben. They're not quite father and son, but more like nephew and fun uncle. Mwami often pats Ruben's head and incites him into play by doing a dance in front of him.

“The one concern I had is this infant was a male and the other two we've had to pair with surrogates were females,” Bottaro said.

“Sometimes in the wild, if the dominant male is not the biological father, that can be a problem. But that didn't happen.”

A ‘true boy'

Even as Ruben clings to the security of adults, he does venture off on his own. Rottman said at Lowry Park, Ruben was rambunctious and a “true boy” who loved to eat.

He has continued on that path in Oklahoma City.

“For a youngster at his age he's very independent,” Newby said. “He'll go back to his surrogate mom for a little check-in and then he's off playing with the dominant male.”

Ruben will remain out of public view until he is fully integrated with all of the zoo's chimps. But that day is coming soon, Bottaro said. And when it does it will be the final step in his journey that took him from Florida to central Oklahoma. It also highlights the cooperation between zoos. It was painful for Rottman to give up Ruben, but she knew it was for the best.

“The staff here truly loved him,” Rottman said. “But we knew this was the right decision and we had so much faith in the staff at Oklahoma City because they've done this before. It is a truly wonderful situation he's in now and we couldn't be more pleased and thankful for that.”

by Matt Patterson
Matt Patterson has been with The Oklahoman since 2006. Prior to joining the news staff in 2010, Patterson worked in The Oklahoman's sports department for five years. He previously worked at The Lawton Constitution and The Edmond Sun....
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