Bo, Binti and Jackie don’t know it, but they’re about to take a road trip.
And this trip is strictly one way.
Ranging in age from 23 to 34, the three female chimpanzees have spent most of their lives at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. But they’ll soon begin to enjoy life in bigger, spiffier digs at Tennessee’s Knoxville Zoo, where they’ll make new friends and get reacquainted with an old one.
Preparations to move the chimps from the Cleveland zoo’s indoor Primate, Cat & Aquatic Building have been in the making for a long time.
“It was a tough call,” said Tom Robatain, a zoo marketing and public relations specialist. “They spent more than a year debating it.”
Expected to take place in the next few weeks, the move was recommended by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan Committee, a group of zoo administrators and animal experts who oversee long-term care and placement of endangered chimps at zoos throughout North America.
The chimps will be driven to Tennessee, and a zookeeper will accompany them — and remain with them in Knoxville — to minimize the anxiety caused by relocating them.
The animals will have medical checks during hourly stops.
Jackie, 34, the oldest of the three chimps, has been in Cleveland since 1976 following her arrival from Africa. Described as neat, meticulous and standoffish by Dave Winkler, their keeper, she is an apparent opposite of Bo and Binti, both 23.
Bo was the first chimp born at the zoo, in 1984. Binti arrived a year later from a Kansas zoo.
“They are full of energy and take more of an interest in visitors,” Winkler said.
The mammals closest to humans, the chimps could have remained in Cleveland had their living quarters been updated.
“If we could renovate our chimp exhibit right now, we would, but it’s not something we can do yet,” said Steve Taylor, the zoo’s director.
That work must wait for other projects, including the expansive, $25 million African Elephant Crossing exhibit to begin construction this year, with completion set for 2009 or 2010.
Zoo officials hope to eventually return chimpanzees to their collection of nearly 3,000 animals.
As visiting moms, dads and little ones stopped to check them out Tuesday, the three females alternately sat in an overhead cargo net atop an outcropping of faux rock and hunted for veggies, fruit and processed chow placed in fresh straw — “that approximates the foraging they would do,” said Winkler.
“They look lonely and bored,” said one woman.
Despite the thoughtful but seemingly sad expressions on their faces, the chimps aren’t depressed or having problems, and their relocation was not the result of a change in behavior.
“They’ll be able to be outside nearly every day of the year in Tennessee,” Winkler said. “It’s a lot more moderate climate than Cleveland. It’ll be a better situation for them all the way around.”
One of the chimps the females will join in Tennessee is Jimbo, a male who was the lady chimps’ longtime companion in his 18 years in Cleveland before moving to the Knoxville Zoo in 2006 to breed with female chimps there.