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Violent War for Dominance Breaks Out at Toronto Zoo After Alpha Female Dies

Chris Young/ The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Liam Casey reports: After the matriarch died last year, a vicious battle erupted among the female baboons at the Toronto Zoo for her throne that endured for months, prompting a brief closure of the exhibit and providing a fascinating glimpse into the animals’ behaviour.

Medical records show numerous injuries among five of the six female olive baboons, from deep lacerations near their eyes to hair ripped out and tail injuries. At least two required surgeries to close deep gashes.

The exhibit was closed for several days because “there were some injuries that we thought best to keep them at the back because our visiting public don’t know baboon behaviour,” said Maria Franke, the curator of mammals at the zoo.

Chris Young/ The Canadian Press

Chris Young/The Canadian Press. A baboon with an injured tail lies of the floor as two baboons sit on a rock in their enclosure at the Toronto Zoo on Tuesday, November 24, 2015.

The baboon house — the area not open to the public where the animals eat and sleep — also had to be modified to allow for more space and additional escape routes, Franke said.

Chris Dutton, the zoo’s senior veterinarian, said the animals are fine and are “incredibly tough and they heal incredibly well.”

Now, Dutton said, two females sit on the throne in an uncomfortable truce, with the rightful heir biding her time until the older one dies.

Baboons, both in the wild and at zoos, have societies that are run by females — and that dominance runs through family lines. So the oldest daughter of the matriarch is the rightful heir to become queen.

That’s what happened to Betty, the longtime queen of the 12-member troop who took the reins when her mother, Boss Lady, died.

But troubles began a year ago when keepers noticed differences in Betty’s behaviour, Franke and Dutton said.

“She was changing her naturally dominant behaviour and she was hanging out with the subordinates and starting to slow down a little,” Dutton said.

The medical records, obtained via freedom-to-information legislation, note Betty was “reported to be lethargic, losing weight and not eating well.”

Chris Young/ The Canadian Press

Chris Young/The Canadian Press. The war started when the deceased matriarch’s daughter was supplanted in succession by an older female.

By early December, Betty stopped eating.

So Dutton and his staff anesthetized her to figure out what was going on. An exploratory surgery revealed a tumour in her uterus that had spread to the abdominal wall. It was terminal, Dutton said, so they euthanized her on the operating room table on Dec. 5, 2014. She was 16 years old.

That’s when the brawling began. Read the rest of this entry »

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