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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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 SEN Teacher, perm vacancy, Medway school

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education are working w...

Play Leader

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Bristol: Play Leader Stroud - Gloucesters...

KS4 SEN Teacher, Margate, Permanent Position, Sept 2014

Competitive package: Randstad Education Group: We have an exciting opportunity...

Year 6 Teacher - Part-time

Negotiable: AER Teachers: We are currently working on behalf of a Primary scho...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform