Someone’s been monkeying around at the zoo.
“Oh, look, a baby!” a visitor at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens exclaims to her own little one on a rainy Friday morning.
You have to look closely to spy the little white head bobbing on its mother’s black chest. The colobus monkeys tend to stay on the highest perch in their heavily fenced habitat at the zoo just south of Hilo. Yellow warning tape keeps zoo-goers a little farther away these days, to give the family more privacy.
The new baby was born Aug. 10. It’s too soon to tell if the infant is a girl or a boy, as the father, Moe, has been very protective, keeping zookeepers away from the little one.
“I think all the staff and everyone at the zoo is very excited about this new addition,” said zoo director Pam Mizuno.
The baby is the first for parents Moe and Mindy and the first at the zoo in many years.
Unlike the parents, who flaunt a distinctive black-and white pattern and a long bushy tail, the newborn is pure white. The young monkeys begin turning color at about five weeks, according to researchers at Indiana University.
The colobus is considered a threatened species, zoo staff say. An Old World monkey native to Africa, the colobus was once hunted extensively for its beautiful fur and later for its meat. Now human encroachment on their habitat is threatening them. The monkeys live about 20 years in the wild and 30 years in captivity.
The monkeys rarely descend to the ground. Instead, they swing from tree to tree, using their mantle hairs and tail as a parachute.
Moe, who is 10 years old, was acquired by the zoo in 2009. It took a long time to find Moe a wife; female colobus monkeys are hard to come by from zoos and private sources, Mizuno said.
The zoo finally acquired Mindy last year, thanks to donations from the friends of Panaewa Zoo. Like Moe, Mindy, who is 8 years old, is from Florida.
The two monkeys hit it off immediately, Mizuno said. They were first put into adjacent cages to get to know each other. After a few days, Mindy was put into Moe’s habitat.
“They seemed to hit it off quite well,” Mizuno said. “It’s lucky for us, they make a really nice pair.”
Mindy seems protective of her little one, but she is not afraid to show it off, as she cradles it against her chest or sets it down on the perch to nuzzle and wash it with her tongue.
Still, zookeepers ask that the public stay behind the warning tape and watch the family quietly, so as not to disturb them during this crucial time.