COAL VALLEY -- The "A" Team has arrived. 

Two new monkeys — Azul and Azizi — made their debut Wednesday morning for the grand opening of the new primate exhibit at Niabi Zoo, 13010 Niabi Zoo Road. 

A full house of county and community officials crowded around to observe a 9-year-old male Wolf's guenon named Azul and a 6-year-old male Allen's swamp monkey named Azizi; the first of their kind in the Quad-Cities. 

The pair is affectionately called the "A Team" by zoo officials. 

Zoo Director Lee Jackson said the Wolf's guenon and Allen's swamp monkey were on the zoo's wish list. The monkeys came from two other zoos and have been living at Niabi for about a year, allowing them time to become acquainted before going on display before the public. 

"We allowed them to socialize with one another while this exhibit was being planned and constructed," Jackson said. "The process for getting them was not unusual for zoo transfers. We have a collection plan, and these were two species that were in the collection plan. When they became available, we decided to move on it. We'll be adding more (monkeys) as time goes on."

The exhibit is located inside the giraffe barn in the Passport to Africa section of the zoo. Jackson said the monkey's exhibit space formerly housed fennec foxes and rock hyrax, who were moved into the biodiversity hall. 

An adjoining exterior exhibit space is already under construction which will allow the primates to move freely between indoor and outdoor enclosures. Jackson said it will be completed in six weeks. 

Clearly aware of an audience, there was plenty of monkeying around between Azul and Azizi as they chased one another around the enclosure. Azul, the Wolf's guenon, showed no fear as he stood on his hind legs in front of the glass barrier and peered back nose-to-nose with onlookers. 

Found in central Africa in between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda, the monkeys live in lowland rain forests and swamp forests. 

The Wolf's guenon, like its name, has tufts of fur protruding from its head that resemble a wolf's ears. Its tail is one and a half times the length of its body, allowing it greater flexibility in trees. 

The Allen's swamp monkey is smaller, stout and has brown fur. They prefer to live near water in swamp forests, hence the name. It has partially webbed fingers and toes, allowing it to swim easily through water.

Wolf's guenon monkeys usually live in groups of 10 to 12, while Allen's swamp monkeys live in larger groups of up to 40 individuals. 

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Niabi Curator of Conservation and Education Joel Vanderbush said he was thrilled to have the new exhibit. 

Vanderbush said the two species often cohabitate in the wild, which offers them more protection. 

"It's great to see the monkeys, we love them, but the conservation stories that come with this are important because of that area in the Congolian swamp forest where these guys are from," Vanderbush said.

"It's a protected space in that it's a giant swamp forest and you can't get industrial tree equipment in there, otherwise, deforestation would be an issue," Vanderbush said. "But, because there is water everywhere, poachers can get in there with boats, so the greatest crisis is the bush meat crisis. If hunters can get it, they'll get it. It's a $2 billion a year industry coming out of this region."

Vanderbush said 180,000 pounds of African bush meat arrives in the United States every year. 

Kai Swanson, president of the Rock Island County Forest Preserve Commission, the governing body that oversees the zoo and forest preserves, said the new monkeys will expand learning opportunities for zoo visitors. 

"Lee (Jackson) and the leadership team have presented us with a great challenge; they've offered us a resource to help the young people in our community learn about their connection with the natural world," Swanson said. "That feeds our mission of restore, conserve, learn and play. 

"How will we, as a community, rise to that challenge and take advantage of these tremendous opportunities to help our young people learn about something entirely on the other side of the world and yet, totally connected to who we are," Swanson said. "The guenon and swamp monkey do things that support the entire ecosystem."

Rock Island County board member Angie Normoyle said the new species are a welcome addition to the zoo.

"I'm really excited about the focus on conservation, the messaging, the great signage and the educational aspect," Normoyle said. "This is the direction we want to be taking the zoo. I'm excited about the combination of monkeys and the messaging that goes with it. I think it's a win-win."

Zoo visitors can learn more about the new monkeys every Wednesday at noon during the free Zookeeper Chats.

Niabi Zoo is open for the season seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit niabizoo.com

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