A woman was left devastated when she was banned from a zoo after her “close relationship” with a male chimpanzee caused concern.
Adie Timmermans enjoyed and looked forward to her weekly trips to Antwerp Zoo until the Belgian zoo banned her from the premises after she developed a “close relationship” with a male chimpanzee named Chita. While visiting Chita every week for four years, Adie would blow him kisses, and she claimed the pair had developed a special bond. “I love that animal and he loves me,” she explained, but the zoo felt differently.
Deeming the relationship unhealthy for Chita, the zoo banned Adie from visiting the animal, claiming it was for the 38-year-old male chimpanzee’s own good. According to Antwerp Zoo, Chita’s close relationship with Adie was causing him to be ostracized from the other apes, the Daily Mail reported. Of course, the decision didn’t sit well with Adie, but the zoo claims it is what’s best for Chita.
Zoo workers allegedly told Adie that she could no longer be in contact with Chita because the other chimps had been excluding him from their group, leaving him isolated and alone for up to fifteen hours a day. They explained that they felt his relationship with Adie was to blame since a 2014 study said chimps raised by humans will likely never be able to socialize with their peers.
Even with the reason for the decision explained, Adie strongly opposed the ban, saying it was unfair since it only applies to her, while other visitors are allowed to visit the chimp freely. “I love that animal and he loves me. I haven’t got anything else. Why do they want to take that away?” she asked as she began crying. Although the video is in another language, her heartbreak is palpable:
As seen in the footage, Chita and Adie would wave and blow kisses to each other through the glass of the chimp enclosure during her weekly visit, causing Adie to firmly believe the animal loves her. Their exchange appears to be little more than a playful interaction, but zoo officials maintain that the relationship between the pair is the cause of Chita being rejected by his peers, who won’t let him into the group.
As a result, the primate allegedly spends 15 hours a day completely alone after visiting hours end. “When Chita is constantly surrounded by visitors, the other animals ignore him and don’t consider him part of the group,” zoo curator Sarah Lafaut explained while speaking with a Belgian news outlet. “He then sits on his own outside of visiting hours. An animal that is too focused on people is less respected by its peers, and we want Chita to be a chimpanzee as much as possible.”
Chita has reportedly spent 30 of his 38 years at the zoo after initially being kept as someone’s pet, according to Lafaut. As he grew older, he became “unmanageable” for his owners, who decided to donate him to the zoo. Although he has reportedly adapted to life in the chimpanzee enclosure at the Belgian zoo, he has always had trouble gaining the approval and favor of the other animals, leading to Chita being seriously injured in a fight with other chimps in 2008.
Despite the ban, forbidding Adie from visiting Chita, there are still fears he may never be able to integrate well with his peers, and a 2014 study seems to support and validate those concerns.
“In 2014, Director of the Lester Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes Stephen Ross and Hani Freedman conducted a study which found that chimps separated from their mothers at a young age and raised primarily by humans showed ‘social deficiencies’ with other chimps as they became older,” the Daily Mail reported, adding that Ross said, “We found chimpanzees that were around humans a lot early in life tended not to do a lot of this behavior, even much later, after they learned to live with other chimpanzees.”
This, of course, has led Adie to feel the ban was unfair as it only applies to her. Not only is there a risk that the ban might not be effective in helping Chita be accepted by his peers, but Chita will still be permitted to engage with other visitors, which makes Adie feel unfairly targeted since, although his relationship with her is “special,” Chita is known to be very interactive with other humans as well.
What’s more, Chita showed difficulty socializing with the other chimps well before Adie’s visits began. Having been raised by humans for the first 8 years of his life, perhaps “the damage was already done,” and something that might have brought him some joy has since been stripped away with the ban against Adie Timmermans. While we empathize with Adie, we sincerely hope the zoo made the right decision and Chita will no longer be ignored by his fellow chimps.