Baby chimpanzee hand-reared by Detroit Zoo staff makes debut

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published July 2, 2020

 Zane, a 5-month-old male chimpanzee, was born at the Detroit Zoo Jan. 7.

Zane, a 5-month-old male chimpanzee, was born at the Detroit Zoo Jan. 7.

Photos provided by the Detroit Zoo

 Zane made his public debut at the Detroit Zoo’s 4-acre Great Apes of Harambee habitat June 25.

Zane made his public debut at the Detroit Zoo’s 4-acre Great Apes of Harambee habitat June 25.

ROYAL OAK — On June 25, 5-month-old chimpanzee Zane made his public debut at the Detroit Zoo’s 4-acre Great Apes of Harambee habitat, never far from his adoptive mom, Trixi, 50.

The curious chimp’s story is one of devotion and success.

Zane was born Jan. 7 to 26-year-old Chiana as part of the chimpanzee species survival plan. While she cared for Zane for the first almost 24 hours, it became obvious she wasn’t feeling well.

“She became sicker and sicker and more lethargic, and she put him down and wouldn’t pick him up again,” Detroit Zoological Society Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter explained. “She recovered just fine after several days of being treated by vets in the building.”

After several attempts to return him to Chiana, however, it became apparent that zoo staff would have to provide 24/7 care for young Zane.

“Their mothers carry them pretty much all the time, so the human caregivers had a little infant holder on their chest, and they carried him,” Carter said. “Staff stayed at the building all night, making sure he got his bottles and putting him to sleep.”

Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Mammals Elizabeth Arbaugh oversaw Zane’s care and, from day one, was one of the people who were there around the clock.

“Over time, we started to see his personality. He became more active, and one of the things they need to learn is how to hold on,” Arbaugh said.

She added that a supervisor purchased a long, shaggy fabric to simulate a chimpanzee mom’s hair and encourage his grasping reflex.

Animal care staff made sure to keep Zane, separated by a mesh divider, within sight, smell and sound of the 11-member chimpanzee troop to foster familiarity.

“He was always in really good spirits,” Arbaugh said. “He was curious as he started to try solid foods, and as he got older, we set up a climbing play area where we could sit with him.”

Later on, she said, staff took him outside to get used to the feel of grass and eventually introduced him to a number of chimpanzees from the group.

“One of our older ladies (Trixi) turned into a wonderful adoptive parent for him. Immediately, he went right to her and she went right to him,” Arbaugh said. “They have been close and bonded ever since. Now and then, he’ll wander away, but he never goes far, and she keeps a close eye on him.”

Zane can usually be found holding onto Trixi or riding on her back. Trixi’s daughter, 29-year-old Tanya, has also developed a fondness for Zane.

“Trixi is a confident and high-ranking matriarch,” Carter said. “Trixi is Zane’s primary caregiver, while Tanya, who has never had a baby of her own, loves playing with Zane, napping with him and carrying him for short periods.”

Arbaugh said the zoo received a lot of help and direction from other zoos that have integrated rejected infants into social groups.

“It has been our pleasure, and we enjoyed every moment of time with him. It’s our biggest joy to see him be with the chimps and act like a chimp and fit in so perfectly. It’s clear that’s where he wanted to be,” she said.

Carter said the zoo has been gradually assembling all of the chimpanzees back together into one group. He said just four chimpanzees had not yet joined the group with Zane, but the next chimpanzee, who has shown a lot of interest in Zane, is his grandfather.

“All of the chimpanzees are used to having babies in the group,” he said. “It’s especially important that chimps be with chimps and learn how to be a chimp, and Zane’s adoptive family is going to do that for him.”

The chimpanzees at the Detroit Zoo have the freedom to choose who they want to spend their time with and where they want to go in the indoor-outdoor habitat.

Due to habitat loss, fragmented populations and illegal wildlife trafficking, chimpanzees are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Detroit Zoo reopened to members and the public June 8 and June 12, respectively, after closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. New safety measures are in place, and guests must make reservations in advance of their visits.

Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance, and the number of visitors allowed inside the zoo’s 125 acres at any one time is limited in order to maintain physical distance among guests.

For more information or to make a reservation, call (248) 541-5717 or visit