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Chimpanzee too focused on humans, say handlers

chimpanzee, chimp with blade of grass in mouth

A controversy recently erupted in a Belgian zoo. Primate handlers at the zoo say that they have determined it best to ban a local woman from visiting the zoo. The situation involves a male chimpanzee named “Chita,” who, apparently has become attached to the woman in question. Officials at Antwerp Zoo, in Belgium, have issued a public statement claiming they are merely taking steps to help Chita refocus his attention on his primate peers at the zoo instead of humans. The woman, whom the chimp handlers have banned, says officials are being unfair because they haven’t banned all humans from seeing the chimps, just her.

The chimpanzee was a pet before coming to the zoo

One of Chita’s handlers says that he was a domesticated pet before coming to live at the zoo. This is apparently part of the problem. It has created a challenge because Chita prefers to spend his time interacting with humans instead of chimps. As is common among primates, Chita’s fixation with humans has caused his primate peers to reject him. It seems that his focus on the woman who frequently visits him is particularly troublesome. When visiting hours at the zoo are over, Chita has to spend all of his time alone. The other chimps shun him.

The zoo handler that spoke to reporters says this is the reason they have banned the woman from the zoo. They are merely trying to get the chimpanzee to interact with his peers in the cage rather than focusing on the woman. She claims that she has been “having an affair” with the chimp. As you can see in the video shown below, (albeit verbal language is not translated to English in this clip) the woman and Chita often kiss each other through the glass barrier:

Many American news outlets have published translated versions of the story about a local Belgian woman and the chimpanzee. The woman says she has no one else in life. She enjoys her so-called affair with Chita, which, she believes, is harmless.

Zoo handlers beg to differ. They say the harm that is being done is that Chita does not relate to the other chimps as he should. Officials say they never want a situation in a zoo where an animal is more captivated with humans than with animal peers. That is reportedly the exact situation the woman’s relationship with the chimp has sparked. The woman says she is lonely, and zoo officials are taking away the only friend she has. She says it’s not fair that the zoo allows other people to visit, just not her.

Should the woman still be allowed to visit Chita?

What are your thoughts on this topic? Should zoo officials allow the woman to continue her visits with the chimpanzee? (She does make a valid point in stating that if handlers were truly concerned about human interaction with the Chita, they would ban all humans from visiting the exhibit.)

Do you agree with zoo handlers that it is more important to teach Chita to be part of his primate group than to worry about the woman’s hurt feelings at not being able to visit the zoo?

Anthropologist in the 60s lived with chimps

Many people recall Dr. Jane Goodall, an English primologist and anthropologist who lived with chimpanzees in the wild in Tanzania. At age 26, she ventured where no human being had gone before. She basically took a journal and pair of binoculars and entered the Forest of Gombe. Dr. Goodall spent the next 60 years of her life observing chimpanzees in the wild. She is credited with discovering that chimps make and use tools in their everyday habitat. This is considered one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. It would be interesting to learn whether Dr. Goodall observed chimpanzees rejecting each other in relation to their interaction with her.

In the meantime, tell us what you think. Are the zoo handlers being harsh and unfair to the local woman and her chimpanzee friend at the zoo? Did they do the right thing in banning her visits so they can train Chita to interact more with his primate peers? Share your thoughts on this trending topic! And, if you want to read an interesting post about more wild beasts (elephants and kangaroos, to be specific), this post was featured a while back.

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