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Little Obi mandrill’s won the heart of his first-time mom

blg_ObiSaffronDon’t expect to see our new mandrill mom letting her baby out of sight. To keep 4-month-old Obi out of trouble, 14-year-old Saffron watches over his every move – and that’s not easy, given his high energy level. Keepers say Saffron has embraced motherhood. “Primates protect their babies with their lives. Their baby is their status, and their status can rise if they have a baby. They’re better moms than humans,” said Sarah Villarreal, mammal supervisor. “This is Saffron’s first baby, and she’s doing phenomenally.”

Obi is the first mandrill born at the Dallas Zoo in 24 years. His birth March 28 was exciting, but nerve-wracking, too. “Saffron’s never been around a baby, and she’s never seen a baby be born,” Villarreal said. “Just like a human, if you haven’t seen it, you might not necessarily know what to do. But she’s terrific. She’s doing everything she’s supposed to be doing.”

Because mandrills are “precocial” animals, meaning they develop quickly, Obi is growing fast. He’s eating solid food and bouncing around the habitat. Mandrill babies typically become independent from mom around six months old, but you never really know how independent they’ll be. “Every mom is different,’’ Villarreal said. “Some moms are overbearing. We see that with primates — some end up as mama’s babies for life.”

Loving attention from guests, Obi and Saffron often hang out at the main window into their Wilds of Africa habitat. Obi, a jumping ball blg_Obiof energy, is incredibly responsive, putting his hand up to guests’ hands when they touch the glass or playing peek-a-boo. He’s vocalizing now, and he smiles a lot. Plus, he’s beginning to develop the beautiful coloring of a male mandrill, with his facial ridges turning dark blue and his rear turning red. (See video.)

The name “Obi” is a Western Africa Igbo word meaning “heart,” and this mother-son relationship definitely melts the heart. In the future as Saffron has more babies, she’ll most likely loosen the reins, but for now she stays close to Obi. Your best chance to see them is early in the morning as they eat their breakfast, usually in front of the window.

Obi’s birth is part of the Dallas Zoo’s participation in the Species Survival Plan for Mandrills, a conservation and breeding program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that manages efforts to ensure survival of the endangered species. With fewer than 100 mandrills in North America, the Dallas Zoo works with other zoological parks through the SSP to ensure that the gene pool remains healthy and genetically sound.

Mandrills are the world’s largest monkeys, close relatives of baboons and drills. They’re native to tropical rain forests of central and west Africa, including Congo, Cameroon and Gabon. The species is vulnerable due to hunting and habitat loss.

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