Wolf’s guenon babies are new to the primate nursery at the San Diego Zoo. We have had brief and memorable experiences with two other guenon species: spot-nosed and swamp guenon or swamp monkey (see blog, Good Things Come in Small Packages). However, when a female Wolf’s guenon named Gigi arrived in the nursery on November 18, 2008, we were suddenly novices. The tiny female weighed 11.5 ounces (327 grams) and was a bit more lanky and elegant in comparison with other newborn guenons we had cared for. This tiny beauty was also more vocal, exhibiting an early flair for the dramatic.
Our inexperience with this species is largely due to the fact that guenons make awesome mothers. Gigi’s mom, Fifi, has been a consistently tender caretaker for her offspring in the past. Her firstborn, a male named Dru, and her secondborn, a female named Mimi, were tenderly reared and received constant maternal attention and devotion. However, when Gigi was born, little Mimi was just over one year old. Mimi continually pulled Gigi’s tail and attempted to displace her from Fifi. This behavior would indicate that the interval between siblings was too short. Fifi was nursing her newborn and doing the best she could to pacify both girls. That first night, however, keepers discovered the newborn on the ground. Gigi was placed back with her mom, only to be ignored. After several hours, it was apparent that Mimi would win the battle for her mom’s devotion, as Fifi consistently refused to hold or carry her newborn. If the birth interval between these two babies had been longer, as it had with Dru and Mimi, there is no doubt that Fifi would have welcomed another baby.
In the wild, Wolf’s guenons (their name has nothing to do with their appearance; they are named for the first person to describe them for science) are very social. They stay together in closely knit family groups and even hang out with other primates. These elegant monkeys are elaborately decorated with all manner of grays, browns, reds, and whites, and are crowned with wonderful long ear tufts. Their vocalizations are varied and expressive. If you visit their exhibit in the lushly planted Monkey Trails habitat at the Zoo, you will notice how unbelievably graceful and athletic they are. When you watch their interactions you can see their intelligent social nature as they remain constantly alert and aware of the world around them.
Watching Gigi’s family reminded us that without them to guide her, Gigi would miss out on so much. We knew that her social reintroduction would have to begin promptly and be a top priority in her rearing. Our goal with Gigi was to keep her consistently acquainted with her family.
Before we could start acquainting Gigi with her family, there were some hurdles to tackle. First, Gigi had to regulate her own body temperature. If Gigi was being reared by her mother, she would be reliant on her mother’s body heat for warmth. Very young guenons (like people) are ectothermic, which means that they are unable to maintain their internal body temperature on their own. Because of her age and also because Gigi was so long, thin, and sparsely furred, she needed to be housed in an incubator inside the nursery for the first two weeks. We also had to find a nipple and milk formula that she would accept. We began the transition to formula feedings, offering Gigi bottles every three hours around the clock.
Gigi was a fussy eater and difficult to settle at first. She required patience and persistence to finish her formula feedings. After four days, though, Gigi was reliably gaining weight and was getting the hang of nursing and finishing her bottles. The amount of formula we fed Gigi was determined by her body weight, which was closely monitored each day using a special, sensitive, and very accurate gram scale.
Check back soon for my next blog, where I’ll talk about the family’s reaction to seeing Gigi again.
Janet Hawes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.