Chimp Thabu is growing up

NELSPRUIT – Thabu the little chimpanzee is growing up. Where has the time gone? It seemed just like the other day he was a tiny infant that had stolen hearts across the globe.

Born to teenager mommy Nina, Thabu made international headlines when his birth in January this year was the first ever of a captive chimpanzee to be livestreamed. Millions of people watched and encouraged the little man as he drew his first breath. He was born at the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden santuary.

Almost a year later Thabu is just like any other inquisitive toddler. As children and even adults, we humans love to play. Chimpanzees, being our closest relatives, are no different. Thabu loves to rough house and wrestle with his long-suffering mother. Much like children love to play tag, young chimps also chase each other often resulting in some playful wrestling and rolling around on the ground. Unfortunately in Thabu’s case there are no other young chimps so a patient Nina has fulfilled that role. She allows her son to bully her, climb on her and wrestle with her.

“Although wrestling and playing chase looks like just a fun game, it is actually good practice for when chimps become older. Due to their structured social organization of dominance and submissive adults, it is a good idea to be able to fight or run when they get older. Just as little boys and girls play differently, so too do young male and female chimps. While young females practice being a mother, young males practice being big and tough!” sanctuary manager Marc Cronjé explains.

Yet from the expression on Nina’s face it looks as though mother and son are laughing and having a good time.

Orphan Nina was not brought up by her own mother. She never watched aunts or family hold their babies. And yet when her own son was born she without hesitation grabbed him, cuddled him and kissed him. That unconditional love has just grown and Nina often just pulls the little boy to her chest where she just proudly and gently holds him.

For a baby chimpanzee the world is only as big as a mother’s arms. Thabu has now however reached the age where he wants to explore a little bit further than mommy’s arms.

“Chimps use play to develop skills that will be required when they are older. The skills chimps obtain are not just social necessities, which aid in their interactions between other members of their group, they also develop life skills which help young chimpanzees to feed and defend themselves as adults. The similarity between ourselves and chimps in how we play is truly quite amazing,” Cronjé laughs.

Nina and her son are still in the quarantine area but has access to an outside play area where the other chimpanzees can view them through a small gate. “We are taking the intregation process slowly,” Cronjé says.

Over the next few months, Nina will slowly be reintroduced to her family group. It is a dangerous time, as there have been incidents where adult male chimps have killed babies.

Landé Willemse
Journalist, Sport Coordinator and Editor of AgriECO

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