The Zoo :: Cinder, the hairless chimp

(All information regarding Cinder was taken from the website for the Saint Louis Zoo)

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(Photo credit goes to the Saint Louis Zoo)

Who is Cinder?

Cinder was an unexpected baby. Her mother, Mollie, and father, Smoke, were brought to the Saint Louis Zoo to become foster parents to Hugo. The two were experienced parents, but their last baby was born nine years earlier and it was thought that child was to be their last. Thus, our surprise when Mollie gave birth to a healthy baby girl on August 9, 1994. Mollie comfortably slipped back into the role of mother and Smoke was a laid-back and gentle father.

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(Photo credit goes to the Saint Louis Zoo)

Hair One Day … Gone the Next

Newborn Cinder had a beautiful, full coat of hair. Nothing unusual, baby chimpanzees are born with hair, but what followed was unusual. When she was about five months old, we noticed that Cinder was losing some hair. She continued to lose her hair and in a definite pattern, first from her lower body and gradually extending up until after close to a year, Cinder was completely bald. We invited veterinary and medical doctors to consult with our veterinarians while we ran a variety of diagnostic tests. She was treated for a brief time with suggested medications, but in the end nothing helped. Cinder was diagnosed with alopecia areata, which “is a highly unpredictable, autoimmune skin disease resulting in the loss of hair on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. This common but very challenging and capricious disease affects approximately 1.7 percent of the population overall, including more than 4.7 million people in the United States alone” according to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. When there is a total loss of hair, as in the case of Cinder, the condition is referred to as alopecia universalis. Cinder is otherwise a normal, healthy chimpanzee and, unlike humans, is not faced with the psychological and social challenges the disease presents.

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Cinder has never been treated differently by her parents or foster siblings. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and hair is not essential quality in the eyes of our chimpanzees. Indeed, Cinder was doted on by both parents to the point that we viewed her as spoiled. Mollie attended to her every need and refused to go anywhere without Cinder. The two slept in the same nest for years, longer than most chimpanzee mothers and daughters. Smoke was a playful father, ready to tickle and gently wrestle with his daughter whenever she was in the mood.

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The Life of a Princess

Cinder benefited greatly from the addition of our foster chimpanzees into her family. Younger than Hugo, Mlinzi and Jimiyu, and the biological daughter to Mollie and Smoke, Cinder was treated as the baby sister who could get away with anything. She had instant playmates as well as a mother who would insure that none of the older kids could hurt her. She was carried by Mlinzi and even on occasion by the young boys.

When Cinder was five years old we fostered two more baby chimpanzees into her family. The girls, Holly and Bakhari, were fun playmates when she first met them. For the first time, she was older than another chimp, a fact that initially was not problematic. She played with both girls but because Bakhari was less interested in rough play, Cinder spent more time roughhousing with Holly. Bakhari spent more time with Mollie. But over the course of a few weeks, Cinder became increasingly jealous of the attention Mollie gave to the younger girls. In our eyes, Mollie was still more attentive to Cinder than any of the other chimpanzees, but children do get jealous over small things and so it was with Cinder. We had to separate Cinder out and let her live with her dad and away from Mollie for a short time to allow the Holly and Bakhari some undisrupted time to bond with Mollie. Cinder loves her dad and, although she was unhappy at first, she adjusted rather quickly. When reunited, she behaved well and has enjoyed the company of her new sisters.

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(Photo credit goes to the Saint Louis Zoo)

Cinder was a totally different girl when she was introduced to her most recent foster-sister, Tammy. Nine years old, Cinder was finally more independent of Mollie (although Mollie always fretted when she didn’t know the whereabouts of her daughter). Mlinzi took on the role of Tammy’s foster mother, but when we introduced Mollie and Cinder to Tammy, both fussed over the pretty baby girl. Tammy was immediately taken with Cinder and spent a lot of her time with her hairless sister. Even new chimpanzees didn’t care that Cinder had no hair. We were very proud of Cinder’s gentle interactions with Tammy. No longer the rambunctious five-year-old, Cinder’s behavior was more maternal and protective. She not only let Tammy hold onto to her waist while newly exploring the Jungle of the Ape’s exhibit, she often hurried over and presented her waist to Tammy when the younger chimp was exploring on her own.

In the summer of 2004, Mollie became very ill. We were heartbroken as, despite all our efforts, Mollie’s condition left her increasingly weak. In an all-out attempt to save her life, we separated Mollie from her family in order to be able to treat her multiple times throughout the day. We made sure she was near her family so she could see them and vice-versa. On that sad day when we knew Mollie was in discomfort and would not recover, we made the difficult decision to euthanize her. We allowed her family to see her body; Cinder touched her through the wire. Cinder needed time to adjust to her mother’s death. The removal of any chimp from a group causes some readjustment in their social life and Mollie was a vital part of Cinder’s world. When she is upset, Cinder seeks Smoke’s comfort more than she had in the past.

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New Challenges

The opening of the Fragile Forest has brought another change in her life. Cinder has never seen the outdoor world. She was born in the Jungle of the Apes; she is seeing the outside for the first time in her life. And she is nervous. Smoke was the first of our family to go outside, but Cinder did not take his lead and follow. She was very agitated that her father was in an unknown environment and appeared anxious for him to return. When she built up the courage to venture into the yard for the first time, Smoke, the loyal father, stayed near her. She is gradually spending a bit more time outside, but inevitably she looks to see where Smoke; it is not unusual for Smoke to give her a reassuring hug. In some ways, her short visits into the sunlight will work to her advantage by avoiding sunburn. All of our chimpanzee will get tan from being outside. Hairless areas such as their faces will become chocolate-colored; Cinder just happens to have a larger area with no hair. Already we have noticed that her white skin is getting darker and happily we have not seen sun burnt areas – which suggests her gradual tanning plan is working!

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