Baby bonobo born at Fort Worth Zoo; first in Texas

FORT WORTH -- The maternity wards around the Fort Worth Zoo are usually busy places, but one little girl has made a bit of history with her recent arrival.

The as-yet-unnamed female bonobo, born April 12 to her 20-year-old mother, Lucy, marks the first-ever birth of a bonobo in Texas. The zoo brought Lucy and another female to Fort Worth four years ago to jump start the park's breeding program for the rare ape, which is closely related to the chimpanzee.

Only 10 zoos in the U.S. and Canada have bonobos, so keeping the captive population viable is increasingly important.

In their native habitat, which is believed to be only the African nation of the Congo, the animals are endangered.

"Lucy's done really well," said Ron Surratt, director of animal collections, as he watched her move around the exhibit with her baby clasped tightly to her chest. "She's a great mom."

The zoo has selected five possible names -- Abeni, Azize, Gigi, Kioni and Layla -- but will let people decide the winner by online voting through May 20.

Lucy's offspring has joined one of the most entertaining (or perhaps embarrassing for some people) troops at the zoo.

Bonobos are frisky apes, engaging in all manners of monkey business completely oblivious to crowds, the time of the month or any notion of foreplay.

Unlike the vast majority of animals who mate only when the female is in estrus, bonobos engage in sexual behavior daily, apparently mostly for recreation.

And, as a matriarchal animal society, there's no aggressive, Alpha-male behavior. The females control the sex and use it to reward males, and occasionally each other.

"These guys do it all the time," Surratt said. "It seems to be what holds the group together. It's a big part of their social interaction.

"As far as apes go, there's nothing else like them."

CHRIS VAUGHN, 817-390-7547