utamu

Chimpanzee Utamu, 18, is scheduled to give birth this fall at Jungle of the Apes at the Saint Louis Zoo. | photo by Ethan Riepl

Utamu, an 18-year-old chimpanzee at the Saint Louis Zoo, is pregnant and due to give birth this fall at Jungle of the Apes.

Utamu and her mother, Rosebud, came to the Saint Louis Zoo from Zoo Miami in 2007. Chimpanzee females learn maternal care from their mothers, and the close bond between the two should be beneficial in helping Utamu raise her own baby, according to the Zoo’s primate care staff.

This will be Utamu’s second offspring. In September 2019, Utamu gave birth to her first baby, which, unfortunately, was stillborn or died shortly after birth. “The loss of the baby was incredibly sad for all of us,” said Heidi Hellmuth, Curator of Primates, Saint Louis Zoo. “Utamu showed a lot of positive behaviors during her pregnancy. Additionally, she was mother-raised by Rosebud, and that experience, along with Rosebud’s presence as an experienced ‘grandma,’ are hopeful signs that she’ll know how to care for her newborn this year,” said Hellmuth.

Kijana, a 28-year-old male, is the presumed father; however, because there are other males in the troop, a blood test will be done when the baby is older to officially determine paternity. Kijana moved to St. Louis from the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas in 2018 to join the troop of eight chimpanzees (two other males and six females). Kijana is the father of Jumoke, a male born in 2015 at Little Rock Zoo.

“Kijana and Utamu bonded from the moment they met and were instant allies and are often seen playing or grooming together,” said Helen Boostrom, Zoological Manager of Primates, Saint Louis Zoo.

Kijana’s integration into the Zoo’s chimpanzee troop was based in part on a breeding recommendation with Utamu by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan, a scientific program to manage a genetically healthy chimpanzee population for this critically endangered species.

The gestation for chimpanzees is between eight and eight-and-a-half months. In preparation for the birth, the primate keepers have trained Utamu to allow voluntary ultrasound examinations; these examinations will help the team to proactively monitor the health and development of the baby during gestation. Utamu is monitored closely by a team of caretakers, veterinarians and a nutritionist, while keeping her life as normal as possible within her social group.

“The primate team working with our chimpanzee troop is very experienced and highly skilled. Their expertise in caring for these critically endangered animals was a key part of the successful integration of Kijana into the troop for this breeding recommendation. The strong, trusting relationships they have built with the chimps is integral in providing the high level of care and training to prepare for this important pending birth,” said Hellmuth.

Follow “Utamu: Path to Motherhood” on stlzoo.org/Utamu, Facebook.com/stlzoo, Instagram.com/stlzoo, Twitter.com/stlzoo for updates on the pregnancy, birth and the Zoo’s chimpanzee family.

About Chimpanzees and Conservation

Chimpanzees are critically endangered in their native Africa. Populations are perilously low due to several factors, including deforestation, disease and the bushmeat crisis (illegally sold meat from wild animals). The Zoo is dedicated to caring for chimpanzees both at the Zoo and through the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute Center for the Conservation of Congo Apes, which works with partners to help conserve chimpanzees and western lowland gorillas in their natural environments.