Crepe paper streamers of blue, purple and yellow, wrapped boxes and piñatas greeted a group of chimpanzees at Chimp Haven on Thursday morning as staffers threw an unusual birthday party for one of the sanctuary's most celebrated residents.
Tracy, a chimpanzee who drew national attention after her surprise birth was announced last year, will celebrate her first birthday Tuesday. The early party was planned to accommodate the staff's weekly cleaning schedule.
The noteworthiness of the day might have been lost on Tracy, who even on the eve of her first birthday still clings to her mother, Teresa.
But the sweets in colorfully wrapped boxes hidden throughout the chimpanzees' sanctuary in south Caddo were welcomed just the same. Bananas, peanuts, raisins, candy bars and much more kept the group entertained for almost an hour.
Tracy is the first infant chimpanzee to be raised in a forested habitat with a large chimpanzee family. Her birth to Teresa, a wild-born female in her mid- to late 40s, caught the staff by surprise in January 2006. That's because all of the male chimpanzees were thought to be sterile through vasectomies.
The mystery of "Who's Your Chimp Daddy" was finally solved four months later after hair and cell samples and DNA testing identified Tracy's dad as Conan.
The addition of an infant chimpanzee at Chimp Haven has been fun for the staff, President Linda Brent said.
And Tracy's development is monitored for comparison to wild-born chimpanzees. Teresa, in recent months, has started letting the other female and male chimpanzees interact more with Tracy.
A protective mother, Teresa is expected to keep Tracy close for another six months or so. By age 2, Tracy should start venturing out more on her own, Brent said.
Conan is in the picture, too, Brent said. "She has a special relationship with Conan, but she does with the other males, too. "» The females really like her; they all want to touch and hug her."
On Thursday, Tracy held tight to Teresa as the group of 18 chimpanzees — 11 females and seven males — scoured the outdoor enclosure for the birthday surprises.
Bananas flung onto pine tree branches enticed some, including Teresa, who cautiously ventured onto a limb. But with Tracy hanging on, Teresa stopped and pulled the spindly branch toward her and snapped off the end that held the banana prize.
Later, Tracy snacked on a licorice stick as others raced for homemade cupcakes tossed onto the ground.
"It's fun for us to watch her," said Brent, who joined other staffers in donning birthday caps and singing "Happy Birthday" to the birthday girl.
Next week, Chimp Haven's population will grow by 19. Chimpanzees from a laboratory in south Louisiana will relocate to the Keithville sanctuary, joining the 123 who will live out their lives in the forested haven.
"This will probably be our last big group," Brent said.
Last month, President Bush signed into law an amended bill, referred to as the CHIMP Act, that ensures the chimpanzees retired from medical research will live out their lives without being recalled into medical research.