Jane Begins to Explore her New World

Animal care staff recently noticed two new white teeth peeking out through the gums of infant chimpanzee Jane. Now 6 months old, when the baby yawns, she reveals six pearly whites. As Jane wakes up, laying on her mom Abby’s chest, she stretches out her spindly legs, releases her grip on her mother’s hair and looks around. Everything in her world is something new to explore and we’ve already started to see Jane’s curious and intelligent nature.

Jane took her first steps tentatively. Holding on to Abby with one hand for support, she tried to reach forward to grab onto something sturdy to balance herself. It took the little one about a week to be coordinated and confident enough to move her foot to take a step, but after that she was ready to explore! Climbing was her next big feat. At first, she held onto Abby for extra support but she soon was ready to reach new heights without mom’s help. Each day, Jane would venture a little bit higher and test out her strength and balance by letting go of one of her hands.

The rest of the troop is still enamored with their newest addition. Many individuals can be seen sitting near Abby and grooming her, just to get a closer look at their youngest member. Occasionally, with her stumbling walk, Jane will reach out her hand to them to greet them, a chimpanzee communication she has learned from watching her mom and others. Some of the chimpanzees are gentle with her and will lightly place a hand onto Jane’s back while she sits between the adults or gently, with one finger, touch the top of her head. Abby is popular in the troop now that she is carrying a little one on her chest as all of the other chimpanzees want to spend time around Jane.

While others admire the little girl without touching, her half-sister Zuhura is overjoyed to have a young playmate. It’s clear Zuhura cannot wait until Jane gets older and can follow her around the habitat and play. Still young herself at age 5, Zuhura can be a little rough when she plays with her youngest sister. When Jane seems to have had enough, Abby disciplines her granddaughter (Zuhura) with a quick grunt and shake of her hand, which tells her to stop.

Play is an important part of a young chimpanzee’s life as they learn important skills for when they reach adulthood, such as running, climbing, wrestling and displaying. Play bouts also teach young chimpanzees social skills such as dominance, submission, confidence and reconciliation. So, although sometimes Zuhura can appear to be rough with Jane, don’t worry! Jane is learning new behaviors from this playtime and if you look closely, you might even see both of them laughing just like human children do. For now, Abby is always just an arm’s reach away in case Jane needs support or to get away from her stronger, older sister.

Jane has also started to pick up objects such as sticks, tiny handfuls of bedding, pieces of primate chow and orange peels that Abby discards. Every item she picks up seems to promptly go to her mouth for inspection or to use as a teething toy. Animal care staff use a small plastic spoon used to feed mashed bananas and baby food to Jane each meal. Occasionally, Abby shares small bites of her own produce. Romaine lettuce appears to be Jane’s new favorite, as she typically takes the whole piece from her mother’s mouth and although she’s not yet consuming it, she shreds it and bites it into tiny pieces for Abby to forage for when Jane is through with it. Although Jane is sampling food items, she still nurses and relies on her mother as her primary source of nutrition.

In the coming months, Jane will be more easily visible as she will transition to being carried on Abby’s back and venture a little further away from her mom, but not yet out of reach. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot Jane playing with her sisters, Zuhura and Akira, 7, or see the elder chimpanzees gently grooming her. The newest chimpanzee has brought much excitement to the troop and she continues to grow in size and personality every day.

– Melissa Thueme is a mammal supervisor for the Detroit Zoological Society.

At First Light: Meeting Sweet Baby Jane

As the lights gradually came on at sunrise behind the scenes at the Detroit Zoo’s Great Apes of Harambee on Saturday, July 14, 34-year-old chimpanzee Abby made her way over to the mesh that separates the neighboring stall. She knocked on the door and vocalized to the other chimpanzees, who were slowly starting to wake up. Curious chimps approached the mesh to greet Abby, and as they looked, they could see a tiny newborn chimpanzee in her arms. Abby greeted her friends and showed them her baby while keeping a safe distance to protect her from any inquisitive poking fingers.

The little one was born just after midnight on what was coincidentally the first World Chimpanzee Day. She was named “Jane” after legendary primatologist and anthropologist Dr. Jane Goodall, in honor of the anniversary of her first visit to what is now Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to study the social interactions of wild chimpanzees.

During the first few days, Abby remained separated from the rest of the chimpanzee troop to allow her to rest and bond with Jane and for Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) staff to monitor them. While Abby is an experienced mother, having given birth to daughter Chiana 24 years ago (who is a mother herself to 4-year-old Zuhura) it is important for staff to observe a chimpanzee mother and her infant. DZS staff immediately began documenting the frequency that Jane nurses, which should be in short durations every 60-100 minutes. They’ve also been recording maternal behaviors – some of which are simply adorable, such as when Abby holds up her baby, looks at her and then hugs her to her chest. Animal care staff are cautious to not disturb Abby as they make their observations, sitting quietly in the aisle of their holding area with mesh in between them. In those first few days, with Jane sleeping soundly on her mother’s chest between nursings, Abby’s tired eyes would grow heavy and she’d gently give Jane a few comforting pats on her back before falling asleep herself.

Jane’s grip grows stronger each day. She is now holding on tightly to her mom’s chest with both hands and feet, only occasionally needing a little extra support. After a few days of observations, staff determined that Abby and Jane were ready to move to the dayroom of the indoor habitat and meet some of the other chimpanzees. Abby greeted her friends Trixi and Tanya and began to groom with them by the windows while Jane slept in her arms. Abby denied Tanya’s request to touch Jane’s hand, so Tanya settled with looking closely at Jane while she made her nest nearby.

Over the next few days, Abby was reunited with the remaining chimpanzee troop members, including Jane’s father, Imara. They had a chance to see – and try to touch – Jane for the first time. Some were curious, including youngsters Ajua and Akira, who stared in apparent amazement and couldn’t take their eyes off of little Jane, while others such as Nyani barely seemed to notice the infant. Formerly the youngest of the group, Zuhura, almost 5, appeared unsure of what to think of Jane. Zuhura followed Abby everywhere in demand of the attention of her grandmother and curiously wanting to see Jane. Zuhura would repeatedly – and gently – reach out to touch Jane, but Abby would turn away and hold onto the little one tightly while trying to distract Zuhura with some playful tickles. With all 11 of the chimpanzees now together, they often are seen eagerly grooming in the sunlight by the windows, a way that chimpanzees maintain positive relationships with one another.

Abby and Jane ventured into their outdoor habitat for the first time just shy of Jane’s 2-week-old mark. Dad Imara escorted his family on a few investigative laps around the habitat before Abby decided it was time to lay down and rest again. With plenty of space, Abby has yet to identify a preferred spot to rest with Jane, but she can often be seen in and below the trees, as well as at the windows looking into the public viewing area.

It’s difficult to believe since she is still so tiny, but Jane has grown quite a bit in these last few weeks and is hitting all of her development milestones. After three weeks, Jane is awake more often and starting to look around and focus on her surroundings. She has been holding on to Abby’s chest tightly, rarely needing the support of her mother’s hand on her back, and can pull herself up and push with her legs to adjust her position if she is hungry. Although Jane will still appear small as the weeks go on, she will be making strides in her growth and development. We are all eager to watch her continue to grow and for her personality to begin to shine.

– Melissa Thueme is a mammal supervisor for the Detroit Zoological Society.