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.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

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

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

ICT Teacher

£22000 - £35000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

SEN Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: Youth Support Workers Glouceste...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London