As her “adoptive mother”, Geraldine takes the baby monkey home every night so she can continue bottle-feeding her every few hours.
Born on 8 May, the female primate has been nicknamed “wee red” by Geraldine’s family and so she has been officially named Hóngxīn, meaning “red heart” in Chinese. The name is also a nod to the small distinctive heart-shaped birthmark on the back of the infant’s head.
Geraldine has spent several months raising Hóngxīn and has now begun the process of slowly reintroducing her into the family unit.
Listed as endangered with estimates of less than 2,000 left in the wild, the monkey is native to China and Vietnam and is threatened by poachers and loss of habitat in its home countries. These rare primates have black fur with white streaks of hair running from their mouths to their ears. They also have a tuft of hair on top of their head. However, infants are born with orange fur which gradually changes to adult colouration as they mature.
Keeper Geraldine explained that sometimes animals reject their offspring:
“There are occasions where mothers just do not have the skill set or the instinct to care for their young but thankfully this is not very frequent. After monitoring the mother and baby it quickly became clear that we needed to become involved.”
Geraldine is no novice when it comes to hand-rearing animals as she was tasked with looking after two Chilean flamingo chicks, named Popcorn and Peanut, back in 2018.
Geraldine said: 'We prefer for animals to be reared naturally by their parents but this isn’t always possible. Hand-rearing animals is no easy job, it is time-consuming and can be difficult, but it is also very rewarding. Hóngxīn is definitely keeping me busy but it will be worth it when she is fully integrated back into her family again. Not a lot of people know about this type of primate, but these beautiful monkeys are very vibrant animals, who are incredibly intelligent and agile. It is a real privilege to be able to help this endangered species.”
Hóngxīn is not the first of its kind to be born at Belfast Zoo as the zoo has been home to this stunning but threatened species since 1994 with more than 20 births since then. Belfast Zoo Curator, Andrew Hope is the studbook keeper for the François’ langur breeding programme. This means he is responsible for co-ordinating the genetic and reproductive management of this captive population, which are living in seven European zoos.
Commenting on the birth, Andrew said: “Here at Belfast Zoo we have been incredibly successful at breeding this endangered primate and we are delighted with the arrival of Hóngxīn. This infant is not just something for us to celebrate here at Belfast Zoo, but globally this is significant as with each new arrival, fresh hope is brought to the species as a whole. Logging and the expansion of agriculture has destroyed the habitat of the François’ langur and they are also captured and sold as pets or used in traditional medicines. Numbers are in serious decline and we are honoured that we are able to play an active role in the conservation of the François’ langur.”