Little Guenon and Mother

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Gigi at five months

Installment #6
Read Installment #5, Little Guenon, Big Step

By early March 2009, Gigi was making the transition to Wolf’s guenon life well. She was obviously fully accepted by devoted sister Mimi, tolerated by her stoic father, and her older brother Dru was as gentle and tolerant as we could reasonably hope for. Things were not perfectly harmonious, though. There were times when Gigi’s mom, Fifi, would show some behavior that was concerning to us.

Fifi is an excellent mother and was attentive to both her previous offspring, Dru and Mimi. The family of Wolf’s guenons at the San Diego Zoo’s Monkey Trails exhibit was very cohesive and united, but some of the family dynamics changed when Gigi joined the group. There were times when Gigi was being held or carried by sister Mimi that Fifi would either tolerate well or ignore. Other times it seemed to irritate Fifi when sister Mimi was carting Gigi about so carefully. At these times Fifi would forcibly separate the two girls and then scold Gigi. We were also distressed to see that Fifi would discipline Gigi roughly by grabbing at her in the morning as she lay in her sleeping hammock. Fifi never hurt Gigi, but we weren’t sure what was prompting this behavior.

To address the problem, we tried to limit or eliminate any extra attention or special treatment that Gigi received from us and tailor our daily routine accordingly. Our goal was to make Gigi a full member of the family, without any special privileges. At this point we were separating Gigi from her family briefly each day to give her a bottle, weigh her, and allow her some time alone with solid foods. We suspected that the times when Gigi was separated from the family might be encouraging Fifi’s negative behavior. First we deleted Gigi’s bottles as soon as we could. Next we eliminated her time alone to eat solid foods while carefully monitoring her weight using a remote scale that did not require handling. Fifi soon calmed down after the special privileges lavished on Gigi were discontinued.

On exhibit, Gigi was sometimes included in family activity and other times she was observed sitting or playing alone. We would see Fifi grooming Gigi one minute, then chasing her away the next. We surmised that while Gigi was fitting in well, there were still some subtle lessons (at least they were subtle to us humans) that Gigi still needed to perfect. Even knowing this, it was difficult to observe little Gigi as she struggled to keep up with her family.

We are happy to announce that things are changing for the better now. On April 7,2009, keeper Chad Summers saw a long five-minute nursing bout between Gigi and her mother! (Fifi is still producing milk for Mimi) This was truly a welcome and exciting development. Since the first nursing bout was spotted, we were delighted to see several more.

Curatorial administrative assistant Barbara Nichols is an avid fan of Gigi and a trusted observer. Barbara has followed Gigi’s progress regularly and takes a daily stroll to visit and observe Gigi and her family. Recently Barbara noticed that Gigi was spending more and more time with the family and less time alone. She also noted some new behavior: Gigi has now begun to carefully watch Dru and Mimi closely as they play wildly. Gigi follows Dru and Mimi with her eyes as they wrestle, play fight, and display their incredible agility. Clearly, Gigi is studying up. The most recent nursing bout seen by Barbara was different and was perhaps the most exciting yet. Barbara said that instead of Fifi sitting calmly while Gigi nursed; she saw Fifi put her arms around Gigi in a full embrace, holding her close and tight.

That hug from Fifi is the final snapshot, an image that we have hoped to see from the beginning of this project. Gigi’s bravery and determination have finally paid off; she is now truly part of a whole family. Gigi, way to go!

Janet Hawes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

Update: The San Diego Zoo is very sad to announce that Wolf’s guenon Gigi died on September 1, 2009. Although Gigi’s integration into a social group was going well, she was caught in the middle of an aggressive interaction between two other monkeys and was injured. Animal care staff immediately rushed the little monkey to our veterinary hospital, but her injuries were too severe, and we made the difficult decision to end her suffering.

We know that many of you have been following her story and will be sad to hear of her passing. Please share your condolences with the animal care staff who have been working so closely with her and are feeling her loss.