At the L.A. Zoo they're going bananas trying to figure out who fathered a baby chimp

By People Staff
February 22, 1999 12:00 PM

Toto is 44—in chimpanzee years that’s like being Strom Thurmond. Glenn and Ripley are way too young. That leaves Judeo, Jerrard and Shawn—but they’ve all had vasectomies. So, just who was Yoshiko monkeying around with?

Obviously there had to be someone, because Yoshiko, 8, one of eight female chimps in the Los Angeles Zoo’s Mahale Mountain exhibit, gave birth to a daughter—yet unnamed—on Jan. 31. Now her baffled keepers are trying to figure out who the daddy is. “They’re all candidates at this point,” says head chimp keeper Vicki Bingaman, 49. “Our best guess is that we have a vasectomy that didn’t really work.”

Since chimps weigh only two pounds or so at birth, it can be difficult to spot mothers-to-be, so it came as a shock to keeper Mark Atha when he discovered Yoshiko with her baby. “She was holding it as tight as she could,” he says. “Me, I was in shock.”

As well he should be. The exhibit’s three mature males had been given vasectomies three years ago. The young ones are a few years away from sexual maturity. And Toto, a former circus performer who taught the others to drink, with raised pinkie, from teacups? Forget Toto. Unless someone has been slipping him some simian Viagra—not that anyone’s saying he’s chimpotent—it’s unlikely the baby is a chimp off that old block. As Atha delicately puts it, “There was no romance between him and Yoshi.”

In about a year the keepers will be able to separate baby from mom for DNA testing. (Thus far, well-muscled Jerrard appears to be a front-runner, since Yoshiko is letting him groom the infant.) Meanwhile the paternity puzzle has no effect on the new comer’s standing among the other chimps. “They love her,” says Bingaman. “She gets a lot of attention.”