A pregnant female chimpanzee at a zoo in Switzerland has adopted her sick sister’s baby, caring for the vulnerable infant under the watchful eyes of zookeepers, even after the birth of her own baby.
On Oct. 13, Basel Zoo, a nonprofit in the city of Basel, Switzerland, shared heartwarming footage of the adoptive mom with two young charges on Facebook.
“Chimpanzee female, Kitoko, is currently fostering two young animals at the same time,” the zoo explained in a separate post. “She adopted the son of her sister, Fifi, who couldn’t take care of her newborn due to health reasons.”
Touching photos show Kitoko with her baby boy, Sabaki, and baby niece, Sangala, hugging, playing, and nursing together.
A healthy baby, Sangala was born on June 26 to 28-year-old Fifi. All seemed fine until Fifi deferred to other members of the chimp group “unusually early,” the zoo explained in a news release. In the wild, a sick or dying mother is most likely to remove herself from the group and take her baby with her.
Fifi did continue nursing Sangala until, two weeks after giving birth, but she became weak and developed a limp in her hind legs. Vets took her into intensive care but were perplexed as they didn’t find any root cause of her symptoms.
Meanwhile, Fifi’s sister, Kitoko, took over, caring for Sangala like her own. Even when her own baby, Sabaki, was born at the end of July, Kitoko continued to care for Sangala, appearing to ignore Sabaki initially. Encouraged by the group, and Sabaki’s father, 18-year-old Kume, Kitoko resumed primary care of her own baby and her sister’s at the same time.
Thanks to the resources available at Basel Zoo, the champion mom has been successfully parenting both cousins ever since.
Chimpanzees, said the zoo, depend on their mothers for the first six years of their life.
Losing a mother prematurely can radically lower a baby chimp’s survival odds unless other members of the group take over. Adoptions by maternal aunts of deceased mothers have the highest success rate.
At the time of writing, Basel Zoo veterinarians, alongside human gynecologists and cardiologists, are still working to establish a diagnosis for Fifi, who is improving but is still lame in her hind legs.
In the case of months-old cousins Sangala and Sabaki, they continue to thrive in Kitoko’s care. “Both are doing well and developing normally,” said the zoo.