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Allen's Swamp Monkey Science Q&A

  • Swamp monkey baby plays with stick
  • Swamp monkey plays as mother holds it back
  • Swamp monkey makes friends with other species, Schmidt's Red-tailed Monkey
  • Swamp monkey baby makes a face
  • Swamp monkey baby with its mother

Eight-week-old Allen's swamp monkey Zawadi is on the move. Over the past few weeks, biologist Becky Malinsky has watched the baby—whose name means "gift" in Swahili—become more independent. Zawadi has splashed in the water, sampled mom's food, and she's even hitched a ride on one of the Schmidt's red-tailed monkeys! Get the scoop on Think Tank's precious primate in the latest Keeper Q & A.

This story appears in the May 2016 issue of National Zoo News. Want animal tales delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the e-newsletter here.

How has Zawadi become more independent?

Layla continues to be an incredible and protective mother to Zawadi, but she's slowly loosening the reigns and allowing her baby some independence. Now that Zawadi is becoming much less wobbly on her feet when walking, she is becoming more independent with each passing day. Everything is new to her, so when she's not sleeping or nursing, she's checking out her environment. But mom always keeps a close eye on her!

We provide enrichment to the monkeys every day to encourage natural foraging and play behaviors. Some of Zawadi's favorite items include re-purposed sprayers, small rubber balls with holes, and tubs made of rubber and plastic.

What is Zawadi’s personality like?

The primate staff are just starting to get hints of her personality. For the first several weeks of her life, she was very focused on her mother, so it is only recently that she has started to show interest in the other monkeys in her group and the keepers who take care of them. Zawadi seems very curious about everything in her surroundings. She is certainly not shy about letting the other monkeys know when she wants to play or be held by them. We can't wait to learn more about her personality as she grows up, but for now, I can say she is a bold and energetic little girl!

Has she ventured into the water?

Allen's swamp monkeys are hydrophilic; they spend a lot of time in and near water. In the wild, they will dive to escape predators or catch fish and invertebrates. At the Zoo, the monkeys don't have to worry about predators, but we put water in the pools so that they have the option to take a dip if they so choose.

Zawadi still has a bit more growing to do before we fill the pools to normal levels. To introduce her to water, we put a shallow amount in the pools so that she could explore and play. She's put her hands in the water and splashed around and also stood in the puddle briefly before mom scooped her up. In another few months, she'll be able to swim just as well as the adults.

What's for dinner?

Zawadi is still nursing, but she's also at the age where she sticks everything in her mouth. I've seen her sample some corn, turnip, and coconut, but she also has access to all of the adults' diet items. That includes grapes, banana, mango, pear, apple, squash, carrot, sweet potato and greens, to name a few! It's difficult to tell if she's just taste-testing or if she's ingested the solid food yet.

How does Zawadi interact with the other monkeys?

In our swamp monkey group, Layla has allowed our other adult female, Dee, to interact with Zawadi and even carry her. Our female Schmidt's red-tailed monkeys, Indi and Chi Chi, have been extremely interested in Zawadi since day one. On occasion, Layla has allowed them to sit close to Zawadi and gently touch her. At one point, Zawadi climbed onto Indi's back! On the other hand, the males of both species have not shown much interest in interacting with Zawadi just yet.