Reluctant suitor produces rare heir: Lincoln Park Zoo gaga over gibbon

Tim Gibbons gibbons at
Fri Oct 5 18:14:19 EDT 2001

Reluctant suitor produces rare heir

Lincoln Park Zoo gaga over gibbon
By William Mullen
Tribune staff reporter

October 5, 2001

Three years ago Lincoln Park Zoo staffers knew there was a
when Caruso, their very rare white-cheeked male gibbon,
would mistake
amorous solicitations from his comely consort, Burma, for an

invitation to play leapfrog.

Such behavior would not do, considering there are only 32
pairs of
white-cheeked gibbons in North American zoos and fewer than
left in the wilds of Vietnam, Laos and China. It was
important to the zoo world that Caruso and Burma start
having babies.

So the entire staff of the zoo's primate house became the
equivalents of human sex researchers.

On Thursday their efforts seemed to pay off as they
introduced Kien
Nahn, the baby of still indeterminate sex born to Burma
Sept. 2.

"It is almost impossible to express our delight in this
important birth," said Kristen Lukas, the zoo's primate

Just six months ago, she was so certain the zoo's efforts
had failed
miserably that she wrote a scholarly paper on "how we failed
reproduce gibbons." It was accepted for publication.

The problem was that Caruso, born in a German zoo in 1990
and reared
by humans, didn't seem to have a clue about gibbon love

The handsome, jet-black creature with striking white cheeks
has been
a public favorite since coming here in 1993. An unrestrained

exhibitionist, he often presses himself to the glass of his
to get attention from the big crowds that gather.

In 1994, the zoo acquired buff-colored Burma from the
National Zoo in
Washington, D.C., where she was born in 1988 and raised by
Though the two proved companionable, Caruso rarely showed
when Burma was in a seductive mood. And even when he did,
Caruso has
been known to walk away from the most passionate of moments
to greet
human visitors at his window, Lukas said.

In November 1998, Lukas and the primate house crew began
Burma daily to map her reproductive cycles. Once they had a
good idea
of when she was in estrus each month, they began
experimenting with
creating the right environment to induce Caruso to mate.

"In May, we had given up, and we decided to trade Caruso for
male in the Cincinnati Zoo," Lukas said. "We were giving him
physical in preparation for the shipment when, almost as an
afterthought, we decided to give Burma a physical, too."

Lo and behold, Burma was in the second trimester of her
The keepers aptly named the baby Kien Nahn, which means
"patience" in

Though proud of the keepers' efforts to encourage mating,
Lukas said
she isn't sure if they did anything right at all.

"It could be that these two animals just finally matured,
and we had
nothing to do with this pregnancy," she said. "We may have
three years dancing on our own heads, accomplishing

Nonetheless, she is busily rewriting her "failure" paper for
publication in the journal Zoo Biology.


"What if the hokey pokey is REALLY what it's all about?"

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