So you see a zoo staff member walking through the zoo with a cooler. You might wonder, "What could be in there?" You may be able to narrow down the possibilities based on the size — a large cooler is probably ice or sodas for a meeting or event, or it could be part of a new shipment of smelt that we just picked up, a very small cooler may contain vaccinations for a veterinary procedure, and in between (but still on the small size) could actually house a little Goeldi's monkey or another small animal in need of some TLC.
Confused? There's no need to be. This particular cooler has been modified and is actually an incubator that can maintain the controlled temperature and humidity necessary to get a little one off to a good start.
Now why would we have a little Goeldi's monkey in need of assistance when Mom and Dad did so well with the first one? That's a question only the Goeldi's can answer for sure, but as all parents know, each child is different. Whereas Sucre (mom) maintained total control of her first offspring, not even letting Domingo (dad) help carry the little one when the natural history information on Callimico goeldii tells us he or other family members should pitch in to help. This time Dad was allowed to start carrying the newest family member when it was just shy of 4 weeks of age.
A few days after this occurred, Sarah, one of our newer staff members, had the unpleasant surprise of finding the baby callimico on the ground, chilled and weakened. Keeper II Katti went over to assist. While Sucre (or Sugar as the keepers call her) was very willing to take her offspring back, the little one was unable to hold on, which is essential as Mom moves through the trees.
Months earlier, before the first Goeldi's monkey baby was born, we had poured over callimico birthing and rearing protocols from other zoos (primarily Brookfield), allowing us to create our own protocol for situations we might face. Once the baby was observed having problems, we quickly put those guidelines into action. Incubators were set up, the veterinarian was apprised of the situation and formula was prepared for the struggling infant. (Since the time to find all the ingredients for a baby monkey's formula is not when you have the baby in hand but well ahead of time, we had purchased the components earlier when we knew we had a pregnant monkey.)
A dark-colored wash cloth was rolled up to a size similar to that of Mom's body, creating a surrogate that resembled Mom as closely as possible in color, size and texture. This, hopefully, created a comfortable and somewhat familiar form the baby could hold on to or simply rest on while regaining its strength. Brookfield Zoo colleagues were consulted for more specific advice than could be gleaned from a general protocol.
The small monkey, weighing in at 76 grams (underweight for its age according to collected data) was gently cradled by one keeper and carefully, drop by drop, encouraged to take formula from a syringe by another. Following the meal, the baby was stimulated to defecate and urinate, covering all the motherly duties. The incubator temperature was slowly raised (it's not good to put a chilled infant directly into an incubator that's too warm, better to warm gradually over a few hours) to the optimum temperature. Reinvigorated by four feedings and looking much better, an attempt was made to return the little girl to Mom and Dad. Dad was much too enthusiastic about participating in helping to raise this offspring. He even scared Mom away.
So Domingo was moved to an area off exhibit and the reintroduction was tried again. When Sucre approached, the baby pulled itself up onto her back. While things started off well, with Mom trying to move the baby into nursing position, within an hour the baby was back in the incubator. She just wasn't strong enough yet to go back to the family.
A schedule of feedings and "piddling" (stimulating) was followed — every hour at first, then, luckily for me, every two hours through the rest of the night. It's not easy for one person to hold the infant and feed it also. The baby is small and delicate, her mouth is an even smaller target and you don't want to push the formula too fast with the syringe, etc. It helped a lot when she was stronger and interested in eating. The night was uneventful with the exception of discovering that she was quite capable of urinating on her own as evidenced by the spot on my shirt.
Weighing in at 84g the next morning and being much more alert, "Liliana," as the baby was to be called, seemed ready for another try with the family. Shannon, one of the regular keepers in the area, came in on her day off to do baby watch. Again, Liliana climbed onto Mom and Sucre helped tug her into the proper position. About an hour later, big sister came nearby and Liliana climbed onto her. While Domingo had been eager to take on his fatherly role, Tia wasn't so hot on the babysitting duties that come with being an older sister Goeldi's monkey. She shook and shimmied, loosening baby sis's grip until the baby fell off landing in the straw on the ground which the keepers had so carefully spread before the introductions began. Mom and baby were back together again with a little assistance from Katti (Sugar apparently wasn't too keen on going down to the straw which was new to her, so Katti moved Liliana up to her).
Over the next few hours the observations weren't favorable. The baby seemed to be getting weaker (feet dangling here and there instead of holding on) again so Mom and baby were both caught by zoo staff. Keepers checked to see if Mom indeed had milk (yes) and tried to get Liliana to nurse off Mom while restrained (no). Liliana was moved to the incubator again and sent home with staff for another night of every two hour feedings.
The next morning Liliana weighed in at 82g and again seemed ready to return to Mom. The saying is, the "third try is a charm" and we were going to do everything we could to help make that true. Since big sister had been a distraction for Liliana, she joined Dad in the off exhibit area. Mom was going to be Liliana's only option. On the off chance that someone watching all the time was making Sucre nervous, keepers went back to their regular routine, just looking in as they would under normal circumstances.
Since Goeldi's monkeys are small, and all furry and black, definite nursing can be hard to see from very far away. An emphasis was put on watching for signs of weakness in the offspring rather than whether or not nursing was observed. As the day continued, no news was good news. Baby and Mom seemed to be doing fine. But how long could the baby last if she fell off during the night?
Since we didn't want to find out the hard way, staff stayed, making regular checks throughout the night and popped in, off and on, the next night, just to be sure. Although some of us lost sleep or a day off and all of us were worried, we are now glad to report that Mom and baby are doing fine and have been for a couple weeks. Liliana is now at an age (6 weeks) were she should be mobile enough that if she climbs onto Dad or another family member and later needs to go to Mom, she can dismount and go, rather than needing to rely on Mom to come over or Dad to take her nearby for an exchange. Domingo and Tia rejoined Sucre and the baby in the Marie Osterbuhr Aviary building earlier this week and are ready for your visit.
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