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Meet St. Louis Zoo’s Newest Primate — Raven The 2-Month-Old Chimpanzee

Helen Boostrom
St. Louis Zoo
Helen Boostrom, the zoological manager of primates at St. Louis Zoo, stands by the chimpanzee enclosure in September 2020 as Utamu, who was then pregnant, has a snack behind her.

In October, St. Louis Zoo chimpanzee Utamu gave birth to a baby girl. Two months later, the infant — named Raven — is starting to reach exciting milestones, like reaching for objects and trying to mimic chimpanzee vocalizations.

“For chimpanzees, their communication is both facial expression (it’s very visual) as well as vocalizations and sound,” says their caretaker, Helen Boostrom. “A common chimpanzee vocalization is called a pant-hoot [where] they kind of purse their lips. When the group is vocalizing, we see Raven try to purse her lips and try to mimic what she is seeing the adults do and watch her mom while she’s doing that.”

St. Louis Zoo
Utamu initially had trouble with nursing, but she and Raven were eventually successful.

Raven spends her days clinging to Utamu’s side. Boostrom said it will be at least a few months before Raven would venture even a few feet away from her mom. In the meantime, Utamu has introduced her newborn to the rest of the zoo’s chimpanzees.

“We see a lot of grooming that involves Utamu, and play sessions. When they walk by Utamu, we sometimes see them giving little head nods, which is a greeting for chimps, to Raven,” Boostrom said. “Utamu is very watchful and observant and very careful. She’ll let the other chimpanzees know if she’s not comfortable with what they’re doing.”

While Utamu and Raven are the center of attention within the zoo’s chimpanzee community, it may be some time before the public will be able to see the pair. Boostrom said that Utamu will have the ultimate say on when Raven is ready for a public debut.

“It’s really [about] getting Utamu and the group comfortable, just because they are so protective of Raven,” Boostrom said. “We don’t have that date yet — we’re kind of playing it by the chimp’s timeline.”

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