LINCOLN PARK ZOO — At roughly 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, a young female Japanese snow monkey was the first of Lincoln Park Zoo's new residents to take a dip in the zoo's new hot tub.
It was a cautious approach: the animal first reached over the ledge to test the water with her hand and splashed around a bit before taking the dip.
No word if she loved it...but humans are likely to go ape over the new exhibit.
Wednesday was the first day for the public to get a look at the eight snow monkeys exploring the Regenstein Macaque Forest. The five females and three males, all between the ages of nine and ten, also climbed trees that are also part of the exhibit, jumping from branch to branch.
Guests will be able to view the exhibit through the glass of the main viewing area, but a second viewing area where research will be displayed on touch screens is not set to open until May.
The monkeys arrived this fall from the Japan Monkey Centre, a zoo in Inuyama, Japan, and had been undergoing a period of quarantine up until this week. They will be on and off exhibit intermittently over the next few months as the animals acclimate to their new environment, zoo officials said.
The turbulent Chicago climate will be perfect for the animals, according to Maureen Leahy, curator of primates at the zoo, as it is very similar to Japan, where the animals are native.
The exhibit is equipped with heated rocks, hot springs and a hot tub area for the colder months and will have a cool water stream that will run the length of the exhibit and hidden fans in the summer.
The eight monkeys have been exploring the perimeter of the mesh net enclosure, taking in the new sites and sounds of the city, according to zoo experts.
They have seen the African wild dogs across the way. They've seen airplanes, and even glimpsed traffic when looking out the back of the habitat, according to Steve Ross, director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes.
"The other day an ambulance went by and they all perked up," Ross said. "This is a whole new world from a sensory standpoint for them."
Eventually when the north end viewing shelter and research area opens, guests will be able to watch the monkeys take sequencing tests on a pair of touch screens.
The screens will be separated by a pane of "smart glass" that researchers will be able to turn transparent or opaque at the flip of a switch.
"When they are doing a task, will they learn from their partner, their neighbor?" Ross said.
The snow monkeys are said to be quite intelligent, and in the wild have been seen cleaning food in water and making snowballs.
"We know that they can work with touch screens and do particular tasks, so we are going to really challenge them here," Ross said. "We really want to give them a chance to flex their mental muscles here."
The research area will allow families to watch real research happen and gain exposure to math, technology and science, according to Ross.
"We can do high quality research that is going to be published in academic journals and anyone can come in and see it happening," Ross said. "It's not behind closed doors. It's not up in an ivory tower."
Over the next five to 15 years, the zoo hopes the monkeys will breed and increase the population to potentially 20 individuals, according to Leahy.
"We definitely hope that we will see some babies in the next several years," Ross said. "You can't rush nature."
Japanese macaques are native to all of Japan, except for the northern-most island, and are known for their tolerance of extreme climates, according to the zoo.
The 7,300-square-foot exhibit is designed to mimic a rocky northern climate and features towering artificial trees, which monkey were climbing to the top.
The exhibit is part of a $15 million improvement plan that includes construction of the Lionel Train Adventure.
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