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BioPark Zoo chimp gives birth to twins

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

What’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

How about a handful of chimps.

Elaine, a 38-year-old chimpanzee at the BioPark Zoo, certainly has her hands full after giving birth this week to twins. The gender of each infant has not been determined, but they appear to weigh no more than 3 or 4 pounds each, zoo manager Lynn Tupa said Thursday.

Just to be clear, chimps are not monkeys.

“The keepers came in Tuesday morning and saw that the mom was holding at least one baby and then they saw another little head pop out from her arms,” she said.

Twin births among chimpanzees are not rarities, but neither are they common. Alf, the 27-year old father, or rather “suspected” father, “has sired twins and triplets in the past,” Tupa said.

Suspected father! Hold on, no need to call TV host Maury Povich just yet to conduct a paternity test. Thunder, one of Alf’s offspring, could be the daddy, “but because Alf is the dominant male in the group, chances are Alf is, indeed, the father,” Tupa said.

When the baby chimps are a year old or so, they will be given a thorough physical exam and some of the blood samples taken will be used for a DNA paternity test.

Elaine, a 38-year-old chimpanzee, bottom right, rests with her newborn twins

Elaine, a 38-year-old chimpanzee, bottom right, rests with her newborn twins. Doting over them are two of Elaine’s other daughters, Kianga, bottom left, and Leia, top right. Thunder, a male at top left, is the son of a male chimp named Alf, who is believed to be the father of the twins, though Thunder hasn’t been ruled out. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

In the meantime, the chimps are on display and are being well cared for by Elaine. The eight other members of the chimp troop “seem to be very proud of the babies,” and are doting on them and the mom, who is also the dominant female.

Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing from here on out. The first-year mortality rate for males is 30 percent and for females 25 percent. “So we’re not out of the woods yet. We need to make sure they are nursing and nursing enough,” Tupa said. “Because Elaine is an older female, we have docents and keepers out there keeping an eye on that. As of now, it looks like she’s doing everything perfectly fine.”

A mother chimpanzee can nurse her offspring for two years, even after the babies begin incorporating more solid foods at four or five months, she said.

Both Elaine and Alf were among a group of chimpanzees the BioPark Zoo received in 2003 from the Coulston Foundation in Alamogordo. The foundation used chimps in its research on AIDS, hepatitis C and other diseases. Alf and Elaine were part of the foundation’s breeding stock and were not used in medical research, Tupa said.

The Coulston Foundation lost most of its government contracts by 2001 and, in 2002, it was purchased by Save the Chimps, which ceased all research and retired the animals.

In the wild, chimps can live into their 30s and in captivity commonly into their 40s, Tupa said, though there are documented incidences of chimps living into their 50s and older.

Female chimps most commonly breed starting at about age 7 and continue breeding into their mid-30s, though some extend the range longer.

As for male chimps, “Well, you know men,” Tupa said. “They can breed until they’re at death’s door.”

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