Chimps forced to break bad habit
By HORACE MONSEGUE Sunday N Sunday, March 25 2007
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ISSUED NO SMOKING ORDER: Environmentalist Gupte Lutchmedial, President of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago banned smoking at the zoo. ...
VISITORS TO the Emperor Valley Zoo and its two chimpanzees have been banned from smoking.
This follows a directive from President of Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, (ZSTT) Gupte Lutchmedial, that the Emperor Valley Zoo become a smoke-free environment. The decision was taken at the ZSTT’s meeting last week. Lutchmedial said the policy had been adopted in the interest of the public and the animals.
Hardest hit by the smoking ban will be “Sudi” the 32-year-old chimpanzee at the Emperor Valley Zoo and her male buddy, 31-year-old, “Njujo,” — meaning “clown.” Sudi — her name means “good girl” in Swahili — has been taking an occasional “smoke” since she was a juvenile chimp, having developed the habit from her original owner.
Sudi and Njujo, who were both born in Africa, came from a Canadian zoo around 1984 and visitors have been mischievously supplying them with “smokes,” although zoo authorities frown on the practice, the same way it dissuades public feeding of the animals.
The smoking ban was positively greeted by the Minister of Health John Rahael. He told Sunday Newsday, “I am happy about it because even the Government has taken a policy decision on smoking — none of the Government offices and institutions are smoking zones and hopefully people would respect whatever areas have these restrictions. This en-courages people not to smoke at all, as smoking is the main cause of a tremendous amount of illnesses.”
Also commending the ZSTT for its position, Chairman of the Cancer Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr George Laquis lauded ZSTT for “being a step ahead of the times.”
The zoo’s acting curator Nirmal Biptah had been making recommendation for years to adopt a no smoking policy. He told Sunday Newsday yesterday that he was pleased with developments. Biptah said about 125,000 children under 12 years and another 40,000 between 12 and 18, along with 35,000 adults visit the zoo yearly. He noted that the prevalence of second hand smoke had always been an issue he was concerned about. He said the ban is in keeping with international practice.
The zoo which falls under Minister Howard Chin Lee’s Ministry of Tourism will shortly undergo major development generating more comfort for visitors and animals.
The no smoking ban points in the correct direction. Senior Zoo Keeper 11 Richard Joseph expressed satisfaction with the new policy. He noted that some visitors tend to behave very aggressively when informed that they should not throw cigarettes to the chimps.
“We sometimes have conflicts with visitors about giving Sudi and Njujo cigarettes. We have come across some very violent individuals.”
At the seven-acre 50-year-old zoo there are about seven species of primates, but only howlers and chimps smoke. Others prefer to eat the cigarettes — and sometimes when cigarettes are tossed to them — they stick the burning end between their lips — much to the amusement of some people.
Contacted yesterday, Hans Boos, who served as curator for several years, also hailed the no smoking policy, but said such a move would be difficult to enforce.
He said visitors to the zoo, apart from giving cigarettes to the chimps, often throw objects at the animals.
“When I was there, they pelted stones. I remember I had to stop a man who came in with a bucket of stones to pelt the lions.”
Boos indicated all zoos have problems with visitors harassing animals.
“The smoking ban is moving in the right direction. They must be proactive,” he said.
Sudi and Njujo arrived at the Emperor Valley Zoo while Boos was curator.
“She was orphaned in Canada and given to the Metro Toronto Zoo by a woman who brought her from Africa.
“She was brought up like a child — she wore dresses and learnt to smoke from the woman. But as she got older she became possessive and used to hold on to the woman. This had a bad effect on the woman.”
An angry chimp can inflict severe injuries, so the woman bid Sudi farewell. Boos said the woman had little choice but to give Sudi to the Metro Toronto Zoo. He said he visited the Canadian zoo and was able to procure Sudi and two other chimps, including Njujo.
“Njujo saw his mother killed and was traumatised by that.”
Njujo spent part of his early years in a circus before also coming to the Emperor Valley Zoo around 1984.
Boos said he brought down two Canadian zoo keepers who spent two weeks in Trinidad assisting the animals settle with their new zoo keepers.
“Sudi was a smoker from even then — it soon got around that Sudi was a smoker.”
Chimpanzees are closely related to humans and are very intelligent primates. They are an endangered species. Chimps will beg other chimps for food by approaching them with open arms and friends may hold hands, hug, or even kiss. A worried chimp makes a lip-puckering face. A frightened chimp will bare its teeth, but a smile indicates a relaxed, friendly chimp. When the lips are tightly pressed together, the chimp is ready to attack — but with the no-smoking ban such facial expression could now say, “I don’t smoke.”
Chimpanzees live about 60 years in captivity but their life in the wild is about 35-40 years.