“We’re incredibly proud to see a precious new baby in the chimpanzee troop,” Andrew Lenihan, team manager at England’s Chester Zoo, shared in a statement obtained by PEOPLE
Conservationists at the Chester Zoo in Cheshire, England, are celebrating the birth of a chimp belonging to the world’s rarest chimpanzee subspecies — the critically endangered Western chimpanzee.
Mom ZeeZee safely delivered the chimp on Dec. 9 after an eight-month pregnancy. The newborn offers “real optimism” for primate conservation, Chester Zoo shared in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
The 128-acre U.K. zoo, which houses 22 chimpanzees in total, is grateful that the new male is “in good health” and has spent his first few weeks “bonding with mom.”
“We’re incredibly proud to see a precious new baby in the chimpanzee troop,” Andrew Lenihan, team manager at Chester Zoo, shared in the zoo’s statement. “Mum ZeeZee and her new arrival instantly bonded, and she’s doing a great job of cradling him closely and caring for him.”
The apes “are under huge threat in the wild” due to “hunting for the illegal bush meat trade” and suffer from diseases spread by humans. In addition, the forest destruction across West Africa causes “extensive habitat loss.”
Roughly 18,000 of these Western chimps remain in the wild across Africa. The Chester Zoo explained that this is the “first subspecies of chimpanzee to be declared critically endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Notably, the omnivore species share 98% of their genetic makeup with humans and are among the most intelligent animals on the planet.
Honoring tradition, the zoo will name its new baby chimp after a famous rockstar or pop star, which they do to help raise attention for the “charismatic” species. The newborn’s older sister is named Stevie (Nicks).
“He may not know it, but ZeeZee’s new baby is a small but vital boost to the global population of Western chimpanzees, at a time when it’s most needed for this critically endangered species,” Lenihan said.
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“In the last 25 years alone, the world has lost 80 percent of its Western chimpanzee population, so the arrival of a healthy baby here at Chester offers us real hope that we can help turn things around for this species,” Mike Jordan, the animal & plant director at the Chester Zoo, added.