Integrating the new chimp on the block with the 6 other chimpanzees at Tulsa Zoo

Meet Zuri. She is 10 years old and the newest chimpanzee to arrive at the Tulsa Zoo, her new home.

Zuri hails from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Tulsa Zoo hopes Zuri chooses to breed with one of the male chimpanzees.

When she arrived, Zuri remained in a 30-day standard quarantine. Then, it was time to integrate her with the Tulsa Zoo’s six other chimpanzees, Bernsen the alpha, Enloe, Jodi, Leia, Morris, and Susie. Bernsen and Morris’ mother is Susie, who was the former alpha. Jodi is the mother to Enloe.

“Introducing chimpanzees is a complicated process,” said Zookeeper Mo O’Leary.

The staff developed a specific plan to introduce Zuri to the rest of the Chimpanzees successfully.

“This plan created a series of steps allowing keepers to introduce Zuri to specific members of the troop at pre-selected times,” said O’Leary. “First, Zuri was given the opportunity to visually howdy with the troop from a safe distance through [the] mesh. Zuri was understandably apprehensive but did investigate to get a view of the others. There was a lot of vocalizing, pilo erect hair, swaggering, door banging displays and visual interest. Enloe and Bernsen both showed their excitement by throwing handfuls of soil through the mesh in Zuri’s direction – these are all typical chimpanzee reactions indicating excitement.”

Step 2, introduce Zuri to a buddy to help support her through this transition to fully integrate her into the rest of the group.

51-year-old, Suzi was the chosen chimpanzee.

“Initially, Susie entered an adjoining room for both females to have closer visual access through a mesh door. They both calmed within minutes, so staff opened doors to allow full contact. The initial meeting of the two females showed Zuri’s confidence as she swatted at Susie. This was a bold step from Zuri and took Susie by surprise,” said O’Leary.

It took time, but the staff began to witness a bond form between the two female chimps.

“They nested close to each other,” said O’Leary. “And they began building trust.”

Next, the staff allowed Zuri and Susie to explore the other living areas of their new home. In order to enter, the two had to enter through an overhead area.

At first, “Zuri was hesitant, but Susie offered gestures of reassurance and an outstretched hand to give Zuri the confidence she needed to follow. These reassurance behaviors continued as the two explored the outdoor exhibit,” said O’Leary.”

Now the staff introduced Zuri with Susie, to Bernsen, an alpha male and one of Susie’s sons.

“Bernsen and Susie greeted and embraced, then Bernsen approached Zuri twice and she swatted him away. From there, the trio shifted inside,” said O’Leary. “Staff observed Zuri going to Susie for reassurance; Bernsen was displaying and Susie was running interference between the two. The activity calmed, but staff had not observed Zuri greet or present to Bernsen nor Bernsen attempt to inspect Zuri. These are positive behaviors zoo staff would expect to see between the alpha male and female.”

It was now Morris’ turn to be introduced to Zuri, with Susie and Bernsen. Morris is Susie’s other son.

“The bond that Susie has with both her sons, Bernsen and Morris, is very strong. The two males had been away from Susie for over a week while Susie was paired with Zuri. When the doors were opened Morris, Bernsen and Susie huddled to greet each other intensely. They embraced, kissed and hugged with a lot of pant grunting vocalizations of reassurance. Morris then moved in and took over the leading role to assert himself with Zuri. She immediately took a submissive stance with Morris and began the dance of moving away from him while he advanced and impressed her with his displays,” said O’Leary.

Eventually, Zuri allowed Morris to get closer to her.

“Morris acknowledged Zuri’s solicitation for reassurance as he approached and made contact with her extended arm. Eventually, the two made face-to-face contact with a kiss. This, in chimpanzee language, is the ultimate sign of, ‘we are okay’,” said O’Leary.

The staff sat back and observed the interaction with the group of four chimpanzees.

“Thirty minutes after that decision, Morris approached Zuri and began to groom her. Susie and Bernsen gathered in close proximity and a very intimate moment occurred. Morris’ teeth clacking demonstrated his excitement in the activity. Chimpanzee grooming is key to building social bonds and this was the first grooming we had witnessed with Zuri,” said O’Leary.

The next day, the zoo staff introduced Jodi and Enlow to the initial group of chimpanzees.

“There was initial excitement between the troop members that know each other, then Jodi asserted herself toward Zuri. Enloe and Zuri were immediately interested with each other as noted by their eye contact. However, Jodi was protective of Enloe and displaced Zuri from him several times. It did not take much time, minutes, for Jodi to acknowledge the submissive solicitations from Zuri and the two greeted then reassured each other ending with a kiss. Zuri and Enloe took that as a sign and greeted one another immediately following,” said O’Leary.

Finally, 5 minutes later Leia was the last one to be added to the group of Chimpanzees.

“There were typical chimpanzee dynamics that followed including screaming, displaying, chasing, mild contact aggression and reassurances. Bernsen then solidified his alpha status with confidence by driving threats away from Zuri. Within the hour the activity had calmed and all seven chimpanzees were united into one group,” said O’Leary. “Our team was able to facilitate a successful introduction for Zuri. We’re excited to see the chimps continue to grow their bonds as we move forward!”

Welcome home, Zuri.