In the Primate department, we are rarely surprised by a new baby. However, on New Year’s Eve Day, a keeper came in to discover a breathtakingly beautiful new baby: a De Brazza’s guenon. The keeper, Lucy Dee, was so astonished that she almost couldn’t believe what she was seeing: a golden blonde infant clinging to the mother, “Amelia”.
Most infants born in the zoo are not surprises: we know when the breeding occurred, we know how long the gestation is, and we know about when to expect the new arrival. However, in this case, we were all completely gobsmacked. Once we recovered from the shock, celebrations began. All of us felt that this baby’s arrival was special in a number of ways. First, the parents were imported from the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. It is highly unusual for zoos to have any wild-born primates anymore, as the days of zoos capturing mammals for exhibit has been long-gone for decades. The vast majority of primates are born in zoos and then traded within institutions to ensure genetic diversity – the Species Survival Plan decides where they should go to breed to keep the population healthy. However, this pair was confiscated after their discovery in an African bushmeat market, and shipped to the USA back in 2006. We very much hoped for offspring because descendants of wild De Brazza’s monkeys would be an important addition to the gene pool of this species in North America. Secondly, this species is not the most endangered African primate, but it is declining because of loss of valuable rain forest habitat and the bushmeat trade.
Breeding animals that are declining in the wild is one of our biggest and most important goals. But, no progeny was forthcoming for seven long years. Then, this past June, we needed additional space in our indoor facility because we were receiving a new group of mandrills, and the De Brazza’s pair shared the mandrill area. We are lucky to have a heated outdoor off-exhibit area available, so we decided to move them there while the extended mandrill introductions were ongoing. The guenons settled in to a routine nicely in their new home, and we turned our attention to mandrills.
We may have been lulled into complacency after such a long time without a baby from this pair, so truly, it was an ecstatic staff that broadcast the news about this new infant to the rest of the team. Most of the crew had never even seen a De Brazza’s guenon baby before, and were amazed to see the blonde coloration. Adult De Brazza’s are some of the most stunning of the African monkeys, and this baby was no exception. Brilliant colors seem to be a hallmark of all the guenons and the infant lived up to what will be beautiful adult markings.
We were impressed with Amelia’s calm demeanor as she groomed and nurtured her new infant. She seemed completely at ease in her new role as a mother, and the sire, Albert, seemed quite protective of his expanded family.
Now that they are ensconced in their cozy area and have been doing so well with the new young one, we have decided to leave them in place until the infant is older so as not to disturb them. We will keep everyone apprised about the baby’s growth and development until they do go back out onto exhibit. Sharing this lovely surprise with the world is an enjoyable if unexpected treat for us!