Zoo loses chimp but gains twin monkeys

The Kansas City Zoo is marking the loss of a chimpanzee but celebrating the arrival of twin golden lion tamarins, an endangered monkey species.

A 13-year-old male called Nusu died on Dec. 10 after being weak and ill for a week.

Zoo officials are not sure why the chimpanzee succumbed. A member of the zoo’s large troop, he was the lowest-ranking male in the social hierarchy.

The tiny tamarins, born Wednesday, are on view in the zoo’s Tropics exhibit but you have to look close as they cling tightly to their mother.

“Mom only weighs about 500 grams and the babies are about one-and-a-half times the size of your thumb,” said Liz Harmon, general curator at the zoo.

Golden lion tamarins are bright orange primates native to coastal Brazil. They are endangered because of deforestation, and their populations are being fragmented. There is a conservation program to return captive tamarins to the wild, but Harmon said the zoo’s babies probably will remain in the breeding program.

They are too young for zookeepers to determine their gender.

“Mom’s got them real tight,” Harmon said. “She’s being a real good mom.”

That’s fortunate because, according to the National Zoological Park, 40 percent of infants born in captivity die before reaching one year.

Zookeepers observed that Nusu had been losing weight. After being outdoors Dec. 3, the chimp returned to the holding barn and became unresponsive. Zoo veterinarian Kirk Suedmeyer immobilized the animal and took samples.

“He just kept going downhill from there,” Harmon said. A necropsy has been performed but the results are not yet in.

It is not unusual for a chimp in captivity to live fifty years.

The zoo notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture of the death, according to procedure, but did not make a public announcement.

Another adult male chimp at the zoo died in August 2010. A USDA report later attributed that death to complications from high body heat and stress from being introduced to other male chimps. The agency instructed the zoo to install air conditioning in the chimp holding barn.

The Kansas City Zoo now has 14 chimpanzees including Suco, the animal that was confiscated from its keepers after getting loose and running amok.