Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 17:03 UK

Exotic chimpanzee enclosure opens

Edinburgh Zoo chimpanzee enclosure
The enclosure can hold up to 40 chimpanzees

One of the world's largest chimpanzee enclosures has opened officially in Scotland.

Edinburgh Zoo's new Budongo Trail is a 5.65m state-of-the-art facility, which has been specially designed to simulate the animals' natural environment.

The 1500 sq ft enclosure opened its doors only a few weeks ago to the public despite the 11 chimpanzees having moved in February.

They will move to the outdoor enclosure once it is completed in two weeks time.

The two level construction is made up of three living "pods" connected by a series of tunnels and also houses the world's largest climbing frame for apes.

New playground

It can hold up to 40 chimps and the zoo is now planning to increase the population by implementing a breeding plan.


The chimps enjoying their new home

Visitors are able to observe the chimpanzees as they explore the landscaped gardens complete with a moat and exotic vegetation.

The outdoor climbing frame, built by the army, is the largest man-made structure for apes in the world, and will encourage the chimpanzees' natural curiosity and intelligence.

So far all the chimps, from the oldest Ricky, 47, down to the youngest Liberious nine, have adapted well to their new environment and are enjoying their expensive playground.

David Windmill, chief executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), which owns Edinburgh Zoo, said: "The Budongo Trail has been carefully designed on two levels, firstly to provide an environment that will stimulate the primates, both indoors and out, and allow us to develop a successful breeding programme, and secondly to give visitors of all ages the opportunity to learn more about the chimpanzees and the global issues threatening their survival.

"We have been working towards this for some years, and are really looking forward to sharing it with the public."

However, some animal welfare organisations, including Advocate for Animals, have "strongly criticised" the zoo's plans to start breeding in captivity.

In a joint letter to the zoo the organisations said: "The lack of prospects for reintroduction of zoo chimpanzees to the wild mean that chimpanzees bred in Scotland will face a lifetime of captivity.

"Rather than an ill-conceived plan to breed yet more captive chimpanzees, Edinburgh Zoo should abandon all breeding plans and instead benefit chimpanzees by offering lifetime care for the many captive chimpanzees in poor conditions in Europe and further afield."

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