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Siri's Success Story

Posted by Carrie Allen on 09/18/2012


By Laura Bottaro, Animal Curator

This is the story of Siri, a young female chimpanzee born in another zoo facility who needed our help.

Defied Odds

Siri’s biological mother was a 57-year-old female. The staff at the Sunset Zoo in Kansas was confident she could not conceive at her advanced age. However, she defied the odds and gave birth to a female infant on August 15, 2010. Siri was not Suzy’s first baby so the staff was not concerned…at first.

Rough Beginnings

After four months, however, the staff noticed that, although Siri was nursing, she was not thriving. She was still clinging to her mother, appearing weak, not exploring and not developing properly.  At eight months, the Sunset Zoo staff reached out to the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan (SSP) committee and asked for assistance.  SSP Advisor Steve Ross invited Oklahoma City Zoo Great EscApe Supervisor Jennifer Davis to the Sunset Zoo to help assess the infant. Davis reported that Siri was extremely underweight and had unusual physical impairments. Both zoo veterinary teams determined that, although Suzy was doing a good job of raising her youngster, she simply could not supply her with the calories that Siri needed to survive. They decided that Siri would be transported to the Oklahoma City Zoo in hopes of transitioning her to a new surrogate mother and chimp family.

It Takes a Team

When Siri arrived at the Oklahoma City Zoo on April 22, 2011, accompanied by her keepers from the Sunset Zoo, the Zoo staff mobilized a team of trained volunteers and scheduled around-the-clock care.  Siri immediately received a feeding tube so she could receive the extra calories she desperately needed to quickly gain strength. The Zoo staff was not alone in this endeavor. Veterinary Services Director Jennifer D’Agostino reached out to human practitioners specializing in helping underdeveloped human infants, including pediatricians, nutritionists, ophthalmologists, physical therapists and even geneticists. With this collaboration, Siri started to show signs of improvement. Some physical abnormalities disappeared, her teeth appeared, she started eating solid food (favoring blueberries!), and she started moving and playing!

Transition Hurdle

After four months of conditioning and training, it was time for Siri to gradually join her new chimp family.  But the introduction was not without complications for fragile Siri. One morning Siri’s surrogate mother reached for her and accidentally injured Siri’s arm. Surgery was immediately preformed and a partial amputation resulted to save Siri’s life.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

Although the initial transition and healing process was difficult, Siri has defied her own set of odds and is now a happy, normal, two-year-old chimp. Siri has successfully learned to use her “little arm” to move around, especially when playing with her best friend, four-year-old Zoe. (Zoe also was successfully hand raised at the Zoo after losing her mother at birth.) Siri’s fiery spirit and will to live has been a welcome and joyful addition to the Great EscApe habitat.

Family Update

Siri has a new playmate! After being hand-raised at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, seven-month-old Ruben arrived at the Oklahoma City Zoo on July 30, 2012.  Ruben’s mother died just 24 hours after giving birth during a medical procedure. He also was treated roughly by his father and not accepted by his surrogate mother. Ruben needed the Oklahoma City Zoo blended chimp family to help him adjust. Like Siri, Ruben received around-the-clock care from the Zoo and Tampa transition teams. But just weeks later, Ruben is blending well and being fully accepted by his new chimp family.

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