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They've Come a Long Way, Baby

Chimp twins' first birthday a reminder of troupe's transition from laboratory life to thriving hierarchy

ALBUQUERQUE, NM - Dezi and Rio - the ABQ BioPark Zoo's twin chimps - turn a year old this Wednesday. Their birth marked a milestone for the growth of this chimpanzee community - a group that has risen from the cement walls of lab life to thriving chimp hierarchy.

The twins' parents Alf and Elaine, together with eight other chimps, came to the BioPark 13 years ago from The Coulston Foundation (TCF), a testing laboratory in Alamogordo that closed its doors in 2002. The zoo acquired the chimpanzees after approaching the foundation, which was winding down its operations at the time.

The BioPark's chimps were naïve, meaning they were not given any live vaccinations - TCF primarily used them as breeding stock. Although they were not infected with live diseases at TCF, they were routinely sedated and likely received vaccines for testing purposes.

When the chimps arrived to the BioPark, they carried a bit of baggage, most notably a distrust of humans. But their anxiety would not last forever - BioPark staff habituated the chimps to non-threatening human contact daily.

"In every interaction between an animal and human, the animals learn something," said Zoo Manager Lynn Tupa. "Are we someone to be afraid of? Are we going to hurt them? Are we going to give them a treat or enrichment? Are we going to yell at them? Are we going to interact positively with them?"

Grass was a new and welcomed treat for the new chimps too.

"When the door opened and they got to see grass, they were like, 'whoa," Tupa said of the first time the chimpanzees entered their new habitat at the zoo. "It was nice to see them go out there and get to explore and climb."

But these days, their initial unease is a long-lost memory - the group's main focus is on the young Dezi and Rio, and many of the chimps find pride in caring for them. Senior Zookeeper Greg Browder said the twins' birth even initiated new group dynamics - almost overnight, their big sister Kianga morphed from "spoiled princess" to proud member of Dezi and Rio's protection crew. Browder also said the group is more sensitive to outside disturbances with the little ones around. 

In celebration of Dezi and Rio's birthday, BioPark staff will decorate the chimp habitat on November 4 and will give the chimps special enrichment activities between 9:30 and 10 a.m. that day.

More details on this story here.

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