COAL VALLEY — Visitors to Niabi Zoo this spring will see a new addition: a baby boy colobus monkey.

Katavi, an eastern black and white colobus monkey, was born at the zoo Dec. 9. His parents are Shirati, a 16-year-old female, and Tuli, a 12-year-old male.

Assistant zoo director Tammy Schmidt said Wednesday that all black and white colobus monkeys are born white. After about three weeks, patches of dark hair start to appear. It takes about three months for the babies to fully take on the coloration of their parents.

"They look like little snowballs when they are born," Schmidt said. "We could see some precursors of pregnancy with (Shirati); she was getting a little uncomfortable. When we see breeding behavior, we start counting the gestation period. She had started gaining weight, and her mammaries were enlarged. 

"The group is pretty precious," Schmidt said. "Now there are nine in the troop."

Schmidt said the zoo has a recommended breeding plan for Shirati and Tuli that is part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP). Shirati has given birth before at the zoo, but Tuli is a first-time father at Niabi.

Schmidt said the primary primate keeper discovered the birth when she was doing wellness checks as part of the morning routine.

"We couldn't see what sex it was for another week or two," Schmidt said. "Baby is already trying to play with Dad."

Schimdt said the zoo waited until mid-January to announce the birth because staffers wanted to make sure the newborn was being accepted into the monkey troop.

"You always wait when a newborn is part of the group," Schmidt said. "You wait until all of your worries are gone. You want to make sure everyone is displaying appropriate care, appropriate nursing and appropriate parenting. Everybody else is helping."

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Schmidt said colobus monkey families have a "village aunt" approach, with all family members helping the mother take care of the infant. 

She said Katavi will move to another zoo when he is older and independent of his parents. 

"Kids that become sexually mature cannot stay with Mom and Dad," Schmidt said. "He will move on between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. In the wild, they would move along and go somewhere else to create another line of genes. (Katavi) will move to another zoo approved by the SSP — Species Survival Plan. 

"We are excited about this new addition," Schmidt said. "We are proud of all programming we have going on at the zoo. Our confidence that we have the tools to support such a breeding program is an honor. We are formulating a little being that will be alive for the next 25 years."

Lee Jackson, zoo director, said in a release the nine colobus monkeys at Niabi are an important part of North American breeding population, currently made up of only 169 monkeys. Niabi partners with more than 50 other zoos in the U.S. and Canada to manage the breeding of this species through the SSP.

“This cooperative breeding program helps not only assure that these beautiful animals will be here for zoo visitors to be inspired by, but also serves as an assurance colony in the event reintroductions into the wild are ever needed," Jackson said in the release. 

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, black and white colobus monkeys are found in Kenya. 

Niabi Zoo is closed for the season, but will reopen April 13. 

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