Monday, April 21, 2008

Boozy Smoking Chimp Rescued From Navy By Edinburgh Zoo

Ricky the chimp used to have a rum old life...smoking and drinking with sailors on the high seas.

But the 47-year-old ape has been rescued from his miserable life as a merchant navy mascot and now has a swinging time in a £5.65 million monkey mansion.

Ricky, who was forced to puff cigarettes and drink alcohol during his five years at sea, is one of 11 chimps who have been moved into the new Budongo Trail enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.

With three spacious living rooms and the world's largest ape-climbing frame, Ricky - rescued by the zoo in 1966 - has never had it so good.

The exhibit, a world first, has been so successful that the zoo are looking at bringing giant pandas to Scotland for the first time.

Budongo Trail, which will eventually hold 40 animals, officially opens to the public on May 2.

The enclosure's head keeper Jo Richardson, 34, said: "Prior to their move the chimps lived in a low building without the height and space to climb freely or be separate.

"Their new space is intended to give them room to move, make noise and generally act as they would in the wild.

"It's fantastic and they have all settled in really well, especially Ricky, who has been at the zoo the longest."

The unique trail is modelled on the Budongo Conservation Field Station, which the zoo sponsors in Uganda.

It has three pod-like rooms with different humidity, temperatures and light linked by tunnels.

Behaviour experts can monitor how they react to their new environment.

The pods are linked to an outdoor climbing area, separated from the public path by a moat, which chimps will not cross because they hate water.

Jo said: "A lot of people see themselves in chimps' behaviour and that is not surprising seeing as they share 98 per cent of their DNA with humans.

"Coming to Budongo and watching our chimps interact is better entertainment than watching EastEnders.

They all have different characteristics and political positions within the group, which is great to observe.

"We don't have a breeding programme but this will change when we introduce more chimps."

The man behind the innovative exhibit is the zoo's head of properties and estates, Gary Wilson.

The 45-year-old, of Fort William, spent a year designing the enclosure, which took 18 months to build.

It also has interactive areas for children and teenagers, a board room and a lecture theatre, which look into the pods.

Gary said: "I was given a diagram of three circles and told to come up with a new chimpanzee house.

"I wanted to bring the people and animals together in a 'you watch them and they watch you' scenario.

"It took a long time to make sure everything met with zoo, public and licensing building requirements."

The biggest challenge was the apeclimbing frame, which is made up of 96 two-tonne creeper trunks, 250 telegraph poles and four miles of rope.

Gary said: "We had to ship the struts from Brazil. It took 30 soldiers and 15 of our own team two weeks to set up.

"The bolts had to be welded down because chimps have four times the strength of humans and can use their hands like a wrench."

Gary also revealed the enclosure has attracted lots of interest - even from people who want to marry there.

He added: "Budongo is the start of our master-plan for Edinburgh Zoo.

"We are seeing if it is feasible to house giant pandas in the zoo and looking at bringing back Orang-utans.

"We are also building a dome over the penguin enclosure, where they will live in sub-zero temperatures like they do in the Antarctic."

Story here.

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