Zoo enlists ‘birds and bees’ expert to answer children's questions about mating animals

An animal baby boom prompted a move to answer an age-old dilemma: what are those monkeys doing?

The sight of a pair of monkeys blithely copulating in full view in their zoo enclosure has posed generations of parents a tricky dilemma.

What exactly do you say to your budding little David Attenborough who wants to know what the cuddly creatures are up to? You could either tell the truth – or more likely make a sharp exit for a less demonstrably priapic species.

One of Britain’s most popular zoos now believes that it has finally solved the age-old problem after its appointment of zoo-keeper Lisa Britton as its first “birds and bees consultant”.

The position was created in the wake of a population spike at Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey which in recent weeks has welcomed the arrival of eight meerkats, a sitatunga, a golden lion headed tamarin, two squirrel monkeys, twin gentle lemurs and a Standing’s day gecko.

Ms Britton, 32, a primate specialist believes that honesty is the best policy.

“After spending 10 years watching primates mate I am pretty much unembarrassable. They are quite quick and are happy to do it in full view of the public. They really don’t have many qualms,” she said.

“I have had some really silly comments that parents have told their children. On one occasion two primates were mating and one of them was bigger than the other. This parent told her child that the bigger one was pumping the smaller one up.

“It is just easier to say that they are mating and that in four months’ time there will be a baby on the way. That way it doesn’t make it a taboo. Children are not shocked or disgusted by it – they just accept it,” she added.

Ms Britton recommends the use of straightforward language and basic scientific terms to explain why, for example, the squirrel monkeys are displaying their genitalia or the female gorillas are suddenly showing off in front of the silverback.

A simple explanation can also help children understand quite complex social hierarchies and behaviours as well as to draw their attention to the fact that some species are under threat.

Typically, she said, it is the dads and the young boys who are the most bemused by the experience although youngsters are generally satisfied with learning the very basics of what they are observing.

Most young people tend to lose interest around their time they hit adolescence, she said. Yet ignorance about basic reproductive facts can remain into later life. “Even a lot of adults don’t understand the concept that an egg is an unfertilised chicken embryo,” she said.

Yet for all their quick-fire public shows of affection the most commonly queried species is not to be found in the monkey house. “Though we have questions about all our species, we surprisingly have the most around our tortoises, who mate slowly but for a long period,” she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before