Tony the chimp bites the hand that fed him


Tony - lonely and dejectedA chimp raised by zoo caretakers since its birth in 1999, after its mother refused to feed it, caused an upset this week when it bit off a finger of its beloved foster-father, Thilak Pushpakumara. Tony the chimp had become greatly attached to Pushpakumara over the years. An entertainer from his young days doing a “chimp show”, Tony stole the hearts of all who visited the zoo in the past decade ago with its cuddly nature.

But with increasing age the animal had developed violent behaviour. Consequently Tony was kept isolated. Restless in solitary confinement – chimpanzees are social creatures – it continued to be violent, sometimes throwing objects at visitors, but it maintained affection for its former caretaker. According to zoo sources, the incident occurred when Pushpakumara went too close to offer Tony a toffee that it loved as a little fellow. The unlucky caretaker has been admitted to the Kalubowila hospital for treatment.

Sanju: Another favourite in the zoo now showing signs of aggression too

Dehiwala Zoo is home to a number of chimpanzees. A family of chimps has been given a bit of spacious cave with relative space and climbing logs etc. to play around, but there has been a problem with putting Tony among them. To begin with, Tony has been habituated among people since its birth and secondly it is a male chimp, and the dominant male in the troop will not tolerate another. So the animal keepers believed they had no other option under current conditions in the zoo than keeping Tony in a separate cage; that probably made him more disturbed.

The zoo had since trained another baby chimp named Sanju to perform tricks. Sanju also won the hearts of visitors few years ago but he too now is kept separately caged after it became violent. Although chimps are affectionate as infants and are a delight to interact with, they grow up fast and their unique intelligence makes it difficult to keep them stimulated and satisfied in a human environment says the foremost chimpanzee expert in the world Dr. Jane Goodale.

By the age of five chimps are stronger than most human adults and they become destructive and resentful of discipline, and they can, and will, bite. Chimpanzee owners have lost fingers and suffered severe facial damage according to the information according to Jane Goodale Foundation. Dr. Goodale states that aggression is a natural aspect of chimpanzee behaviour and it is not uncommon for chimps to bite each other in the wild. However much misguided chimp owners and caretakers continue to love his or her “child” the chimpanzee will be too dangerous to keep as part of a human “family”.

Published on 02.02.2014 on SundayTimes

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