THE FIRST chimpanzee to successfully be reared in Scotland in 15 years is now on display at Edinburgh Zoo, it was revealed today.
Velu, the new baby boy is now just eight weeks old, and he is extra special - he is a pure Western chimpanzee, a subspecies of the common chimpanzee that is underrepresented and listed by the IUCN Red List as an Endangered species.
He lives in the award winning Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo with 18 other chimpanzees.
His mother, Heleen, is from a group of nine chimpanzees who arrived at Edinburgh Zoo from the Netherlands in 2010.
The Dutch chimpanzees originally started life in a research laboratory, then were rehomed to Beekse Bergen Safari Park, before moving to Edinburgh to live in one of the world’s most innovative and interactive chimp enclosures.
Sophie Pearson, Team Leader for the Budongo Trail at Edinburgh Zoo, said: “We are delighted with the arrival and successful integration of Velu into our chimpanzee group.
“Still very young, Velu will look like a baby for another five years or so.
“He currently has a beautiful pale, pinky-coloured face which will darken as he gets older and has a mass of spiky hair.
“His father is either 38 year old Louis or 21 year old Rene, two of the males in our group.
“Later on we will do a paternity test to confirm.
She added: “At Edinburgh Zoo we are extremely proud that Heleen is successfully raising Velu and that he has been accepted into the group.
“Chimpanzees learn from experience - they see their mothers and other group members give birth and raise youngsters - but unfortunately we suspect that Heleen did not have this experience in the earlier part of her life.
“However, after a tricky start, Heleen is coping extremely well and developing into a great mother - she is nursing, grooming and protecting her baby.”
According to Sophie Chimpanzee groups are “complex”.
As a species they are volatile and have extremely complex social hierarchies.
Sophie said: “After the birth, we slowly integrated Heleen and her baby back into the main chimpanzee group - starting first with other females and her closest male allies, then building up to them both going back into the main group.
“This has been successful to date and, although chimpanzee babies are always vulnerable, we are confident Heleen is fully integrated back into the group and has a lot of support from her chimp friends.
“Hand rearing a chimpanzee has a huge impact on the individual as they are extremely intelligent with complex needs; a hand reared chimp may in fact never fully be an independent chimp.
“With this in mind, keepers intervened as little as possible - Velu had to be bottle fed by keepers for a few days at the beginning of his life because Heleen put him down and showed little interest in caring for him herself.
“However, he was never out of Heleen’s sight and she was able to watch him being fed until she decided she wanted to take him back, which she did to everyone’s delight.
Chimpanzees are found in the rainforests of West and Central Africa.
The Budongo Trail enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo is representative of this habitat.
It features three “pods” which vary in degrees of temperature, light and humidity to reflect different conditions of their rainforest home in the wild.
There is also an outdoor climbing and vegetation area which further stimulates the chimps to show natural physical, social and mental behaviours.
All areas are connected by bridges and the chimpanzees can roam freely depending on their desired environment.
The RZSS supports the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda where many projects take place including monitoring chimpanzee health and working with local communities to dissuade hunters from setting bush meat snares.
Chimpanzees are also threatened by habitat loss and the entertainment industry.