Newborn Sedgwick County Zoo chimp ‘helping the healing process’ after last year’s big loss

Keepers at the Sedgwick County Zoo are cautiously celebrating the arrival of a new baby chimp, born eight months after the accidental death of another newborn chimp that staff had grown attached to.

Alizeti — all two pounds of her — arrived on Aug. 20, born to Chuckie, a first-time mother who didn’t take to her new role naturally. After observing the mom and baby together, the staff decided Chuckie was “not exhibiting appropriate maternal behavior” and hadn’t even tried to feed the newborn. So the staff decided to remove the baby from the troop of nine chimps and raise it by hand for at least two months.

After that, Alizeti will likely be returned to the troop and be raised by a foster mother. Another chimp named Sukari, who has never been able to have a baby of her own, has been pegged as the fill-in, as long as everything goes as planned, said Jennica King, the zoo’s director of marketing and communication.

“She has amazing maternal instincts and has provided good maternal care to other babies she’s been around,” King said of Sukari, who was pregnant in 2019 but lost the baby during childbirth. “She’s going to be an amazing chimp mom.”

Alizeti’s arrival has provided a bit of comfort to the staff, still stinging over the loss of Kucheza, who in late 2022 grabbed the hearts of zoo staff and the public but was found dead in late December. The zoo eventually determined that the 5-week-old chimp’s death had been accidental head trauma.

Not long after, King said, another chimp at the zoo gave birth to twins, but they were stillborn.

“It’s helping the healing process a little bit to have a new baby to give all the love to and be really excited about,” King said. “We’re hopeful still that things will continue to go well. Obviously, the first month of her life could still be critical and risky, but that would be the case with any other species.”

Baby Alizeti is helping the hearts of zoo staff still mourning last year’s death of 5-week-old chimp Kucheza.
Baby Alizeti is helping the hearts of zoo staff still mourning last year’s death of 5-week-old chimp Kucheza.

Some have been questioning why baby Alizeti won’t be fostered by Mahale, who gave birth to Kucheza via emergency C-section and was featured a viral video showing the touching moment mom and baby were reunited.

“Mahale should be able to have her own child again,” King said. “She’s a wonderful mom, and we want her to be able to have her own children.”

Alizeti, who King described as “precious and so tiny” won’t be on view to the public until she’s able to be reintroduced to the troop, which won’t happen for at least two months.

Chuckie’s lack of maternal instincts probably can be blamed on the fact that she’s never been able to see another mom give birth to and take care of a baby.

“That’s how all great apes learn to care for babies, and since she’s never witnessed it, she doesn’t know,” King said.

The zoo isn’t 100% sure which male member of the chimp troop is Alizeti’s father: A DNA test will be necessary down the road to determine that.

“Most of the time, it’s the alpha of the troop,” King said. “But once in a while, another male could have an opportunity.”

Alizeti means “Sunflower” in Swahili.