Belfast Telegraph

Bringing up baby, and other monkey business at Belfast zoo

Keeper Andrew Hope on how he hand-reared two abandoned Francois' langur infants

I am the studbook keeper for this species, which means I am responsible for managing the population of Francois' langurs in European zoos by providing breeding recommendations based on factors such as genetics.

On November 25, a four-week Francois' langur arrived from London Zoo.

Unfortunately the infant, who has been named Zhen, was rejected by his mother and had to be hand-reared by keeper Kathryn Sanders for the first few weeks of his life.

Many first-time mothers simply do not have the skill-set or the instinct to care for their young and this can be common in many species. 

We found ourselves in the same situation on August 23, 2014, when our female Francois' langur Chi gave birth to Xiao Xing.

Xiao Xing was rejected and I had to step in to care for the infant. Xiao Xing has lived in my home for three months and continues to need 24-hour care.

After I was approached by London Zoo to care for Zhen, I was delighted to get involved. It is a particularly special experience as I was responsible for hand-rearing Zhen's father Neo back in 2003. It's challenging to hand rear two infants at the same time but it's getting easier. The current schedule is a feed about 7am, then roughly every four hours during the day, at 11am, 3pm, 6.30pm and 10pm, with a top-up about 11.30pm.

Currently I've two living rooms, one for me and one for the kids, Kayla (6) and Ryan (9), and the monkeys are in there. The kids love the monkeys to bits, especially my little girl - she's always wanted to play with them.

Pretty much like human babies, they cry when they're hungry, a high-pitched screech. They screech and screech until you come and feed them. They are also more mobile than human babies and spend a good bit of the day chasing each other round the cage, swinging on each other's tails and mock fighting.

If you've seen the film Gremlins, they also make a noise a bit like a Mogwai.

I will probably start the reintroduction process at the beginning of January, but still bring them home in the evening time. It is a wonderful feeling to know that my efforts with Neo have had an impact on the next generation of Francois' langur in European zoos.

The Francois' langur is a species particularly close to my heart.

Earlier this year I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for a number of conservation campaigns, including the Guanxi Francois' langur conservation plan. Francois' langur are facing a high risk of extinction and in 2003 there were estimated to be fewer than 500 in Vietnam and only approximately 1,400 in China.

The latest arrival has been named Zhen, which means 'precious' in Chinese, and he is not only precious to the keepers who have worked with him, but to the future of his own species.

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