Chimp gives birth to unwanted baby

Saturday September 21 2019
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In the spotlight. Natasha in an isolation cage with her baby whose father is not yet known, at Ngamba Island. PHOTO BY EVE MUGANGA

Natasha, 29, one of the brilliant female chimps at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, alias Chimp Island on Lake Victoria, gave birth to an ‘unwanted’ bouncing baby girl.
Natasha gave birth on September 3 at around 5:40pm, but she doesn’t know the father of her baby.
The authorities at Ngamba Island told Sunday Monitor that she had an affair with at least three male chimps and that at the right time, DNA tests will be conducted to identify the father.
Mr Innocent Ampeire, an officer at Nagamba, explained: “Just like the case for human beings, a woman can have a baby without knowing the real father. So even Natasha doesn’t know the father of her newly born baby.”
“We suspect three male chimps because Natasha had an affair with them and these include Kalema, Baron and Omugenzi,” Mr Ampeire said.
Natasha is said to have conceived after she allegedly rejected contraceptives given to sexually active female chimps at one of the world’s leading sanctuaries for primates.
Born in Kibale in 1990 before she was rescued from Arua, Natasha arrived at Chimp Island in October 1998.
For 20 years, the sanctuary has had only four baby chimps, including Natasha’s daughter. The two females and one male baby chimpanzees born before Natasha’s daughter, are Kyewunyo, Ruparelia and Eazy.
Natasha’s baby girl is, however, not good news to the management of the sanctuary.
Like human beings, the managers give female chimps contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies. This is done to control their population at a sanctuary meant for only stranded or orphaned primates.
Dr Titus Mukungu, the sanctuary manager and veterinarian, told Sunday Monitor that the female chimpanzees at Ngamba Island are put on contraception to prevent them from conceiving since space and resources at the sanctuary are not enough to accommodate a large number of primates.

About the implants
The authorities at Ngamba use implants to control unwanted pregnancies. However, for the last three years, this birth control measure has registered a failure rate of about 5 per cent.
The birth control implant is a tiny, thin rod about the size of a matchstick. It’s also called Nexplanon and there’s a slightly older version called Implanon. A doctor inserts the implant under the skin of the chimp’s upper arm. It then releases the hormone progestin to stop the female primates from getting pregnant.
For Natasha’s unwanted pregnancy, it was a case of failed birth control measure.
The sanctuary, for the last three years, also ran out of implants and decided to use family planning pills (pill plan), which, unfortunately, refused to work.
Dr Mukungu explained that giving family planning pills to chimps everyday became hectic for the keepers and also some chimps at times do not take them and others do not work. “Natasha’s cycle has always continued even while on contraceptive implants and she was found out to be pregnant early this year after conducting routine pregnancy tests on the female chimpanzees,” Dr Mukungu said.
“Chimpanzees pregnancy lasts for about eight months and following the birth of this new baby girl yet to be named, Natasha brings the number of chimpanzees at Ngamba Island to 50, which include 20 males and 30 females.”
Mr Ampeire told Sunday Monitor that Natasha was put in isolation center and is said to be in good condition with her baby.
“We had a challenge from one of the chimps because it didn’t know how to breast feed its baby, but for Natasha, she knows how to do it and being in the community for long time, she learnt from other chimps so she didn’t find it hard to breast feed her baby. She will join the community when her baby is three months old,’’ Mr Ampeire said.

The island

Ngamba Island is 23km southeast of Entebbe in Lake Victoria. The island is part of the archipelago of Koome islands on Lake Victoria in Mukono District and sits on about 95 acres of rain forest.