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L.A. Monkeys To Get Paternity Tests

May 13, 1999

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ There’s some monkey business going on at the Los Angeles Zoo.

The chimpanzees keep getting pregnant, even though all the males thought capable of breeding have had vasectomies.

No one is quite sure why it’s happening, but it’s created the kind of excitement zoos lust for.

``The zoo has never had this much publicity about anything,″ zookeeper Vicki Bingaman said.

In the past three months, two chimps have given birth and a third is pregnant. DNA tests to determine the father _ or fathers _ cannot be done for months, until the babies are old enough to be separated from their mothers.

The real mystery is this: Three of the four adult males had vasectomies in 1996. And Toto, who is 45, has never shown sexual interest in anyone but himself. As for 2-year-old Ripley and 4-year-old Glenn, they were considered too young to breed.

Ms. Bingaman thinks the vasectomies may have failed. Vasectomies are known to have a 1 percent failure rate in humans.

``Chimps are very resilient. It wouldn’t surprise me if they found some way around″ their vasectomies, Ms. Bingaman said.

Charles Sedgwick, the zoo’s director of animal health sciences, thinks she’s wrong.

``Vasectomies in chimps are the same as vasectomies in people, except that chimps are much more prodigiously endowed,″ Sedgwick said. In both humans and chimps, the tubes that carry semen are severed, and ``there’s not much chance that would spontaneously reattach.″

Sedgwick thinks Toto or perhaps the youngsters are the fathers. He said there have been rare cases of young chimps impregnating a female.

The chimps at the Los Angeles Zoo have sex every day, Sedgwick said. The zoo started trying to curb its chimp population about eight years ago because the enclosure was getting too crowded and chimps aren’t an endagered species.

First, zookeepers distributed birth control pills. But the females passed them around. Babies ate them. So did males. Then Ms. Bingaman tried contraceptive implants. They weren’t strong enough.

``So we vasectomized the males and we still had babies,″ she said.

The newest, a four-pound girl, was born last week and brings the chimp population to 15. The zoo and a radio station are sponsoring a name-the-chimp contest, to start Sunday.

Ms. Bingaman thinks the problem is finally under control. A new, more naturalistic enclosure gives zookeepers more room to walk around and make sure only the adult females are swallowing birth control pills.

On Thursday, Susan Taj, a parent volunteer, helped lead a group of second-graders on a field trip. She had heard about the chimp hanky-panky and called it unbelievable. Would she explain it to the children?

``Not to second-graders, I don’t think,″ she said.

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