The joint Antwerp Zoo who had a “relationship” with a monkey is denied access to the park: its “behavior is harmful to the animal” (Antwerp 2018)

Caregivers note that chimpanzee chita is very externally affected and that he cannot maintain his position in the group. To counter this, there have been warnings for years that visitors are not allowed to come into contact with the great apes.

“We have tried to make this subscriber aware for years that her behavior is harmful to the animal she says she has a relationship with. Her caretakers, biologists and other visitors have already tried to get her to reason, but unfortunately she does not listen to anyone. After all the previous warnings and efforts, she did not let go We have no other choice,” says Ilse Segers. “It’s the first time in the zoo’s history that a person’s subscription has not been renewed for the benefit of animal welfare. Previously, people – including participants – were turned away due to violence or other incidents against our employees.”

Thirty years of research

“It is very important to understand how the political world of chimpanzees works and to emphasize that animals should be able to focus on their community,” explains Ilse Segers. “For more than thirty years, our zoos have been extensively researching the behavior of great apes in general, and chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas in particular.”

As a result, we know that chimpanzees engage in politics every day: forming alliances, forming bonds, deceiving and communicating. These are essential tasks for every chimpanzee to maintain harmony in the group. As a zoo, we must do everything we can to give the animals every chance of survival in that group.”

crazy

“Obviously, it’s not about kids standing at the window looking at the monkeys and doing something crazy,” she explains. “We even applaud it. Visitors who come to our animals to see how they live, how they work together, or how they provoke and adjust fights. This is different from seeking consciously intense interaction. It’s not that we put our caretakers on standby all day long to take advantage of visitors. On their toes. 99.9% of visitors respect the animals, only in this exceptional case we have to act. Despite all our attempts to understand. We are not renewing this subscription and this lady is no longer welcome with today’s tickets either.”

Chimps Mia and Marit take care of each other. © Antwerp Zoo / Jonas Verholst

In chimpanzee society, there is always work to be done: the animals are constantly fighting to get to the top of the hierarchical ladder. This is why networking is so important. “Great apes have to constantly build and strengthen their own relationships,” says Director of Zoology Linda Van Elsacker. “They do this, for example, by fleas or by sharing food with each other. There is also a second important factor at play. Each chimpanzee monitors the relationships between other individuals. Who gives way to whom? From fleas to whom? And are they the same? Who has the largest nest Who should dispose of the leftovers? By discovering the political structures, they know for themselves who they should prefer more or how they can improve their situation.”

Knives and yogurt

Chimps who are too distracted from the group and its politics end up at the bottom of the social ladder. “For us, it’s Chita, the outside person in the group. As a young teenager, he arrived at our zoo thirty years ago,” says Van Elsacker. “His adoptive parents no longer find it possible to keep him in their house. In his bag were cutlery, his toothbrush, evening yogurt and a toilet bowl. He never had the chance to be a chimpanzee in his early formative years.”

Chita really had to learn from scratch to be a monkey among a group of monkeys that had been together for a while. That was a difficult process. To end up in a strange society takes a lot. Other chimpanzees also note that chita is different. He had to find his place by trial and error. We are glad that he was able to keep on his own after all these years,” explains Van Elsacker.

Chimpanzee Jimmy. © Antwerp Zoo / Jonas Verholst

Although Chita still struggles with the temptation to hang out with people. “This is very understandable if you look at his history, you will find that it is a very big obstacle in his life as a chimpanzee among chimpanzees. When a human interacts with a chimpanzee, he is distracted from what is happening. And this has an effect, because in this way the animal can miss the signals from the group.”

“When disagreements or misunderstandings arise in a group of great apes, the animals must be able to use their good relationships so that they do not get hit and lick their wounds,” says the director of zoology. “As a chimpanzee, you cannot rely on this contact from the outside in conflicts. Because visitors come and go, but chimpanzees live together permanently. In short: if a chimpanzee begins to form bonds with someone from the outside, it means that he has invested in the wrong relationship. We have to protect Cheeta from that.”

For privacy reasons, we do not disclose the identity of the subscriber in question.

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