A woman in Belgium has reportedly been banned from visiting the chimpanzees at a local zoo after developing a close bond with one of them. According to zoo officials, her "affair" with the primate was preventing him from bonding with the other chimps, reports ATV.
Multiple outlets report that Adie Timmermans has been visiting Chita, a 38-year-old chimpanzee at the Antwerp Zoo, each week for the past four years. In that time, Timmermans claims that she and Chita have forged a strong friendship.
"I love that animal and he loves me," Timmermans said in an interview with ATV, according to LadBible.
Timmermans's relationship with Chita has reportedly consisted of the two waving and blowing kisses to each other through the glass. On the surface, the interactions seem harmless. But zoo officials say that their friendship has proved detrimental to Chita's social status with the other chimpanzees.
"When Chita is constantly surrounded by visitors, the other monkeys ignore him and don't consider him part of the group, even though it's important for him," a spokesperson for the zoo told ATV. "He then sits on his own outside of visiting hours."
In an effort to promote Chita's social wellbeing, the zoo allegedly banned Timmermans from visiting him.
"I haven't got anything else. Why do they want to take that away?" she asked in her interview with ATV. "We're having an affair, I'll just say. Other dozens of visitors are allowed to make contact. Then why not me?"
The zoo explained that Chita might be too focused on Timmermans to bond with his peers.
"An animal that is too focused on people is less respected by its peers," the zoo said. "We want Chita to be a chimpanzee as much as possible."
LadBible reports that Chita has spent 30 years at the zoo. Sarah Lafaut, curator at the Antwerp Zoo explained that prior to his time at the zoo, he was someone's pet, but eventually became "unmanageable." Though he's learned chimpanzee behavior at the zoo, he still has a bond with and an interest in humans. Which, apparently, isn't unheard of.
A 2014 study conducted by Stephen Ross and Hani Freedman showed that chimpanzees that had been separated from their mothers early and raised primarily by humans showed "social deficiencies" many years later.
"Grooming is the glue that holds chimpanzee society together," Ross told Wired in 2014. "We found chimpanzees that were around humans a lot early in life tended not to do a lot of this behavior, even much later, after they learned to live with other chimpanzees. They just weren't good at maintaining these social bonds, and that was expressed by these lower rates of grooming."
Sadly, Chita may always struggle to bond with his peers. Hopefully, handlers at the zoo can help him learn to adapt to life with his fellow primates.