A month shy of her 20th birthday, Mandy was found dead at noon Sunday after a "spunky morning" that included a full breakfast of grapes and apples, said Dr. Hayley Weston Murphy, the zoo's head veterinarian. While the exact cause of death will not be known for months, the 25-pound mammal who was the size of a cocker spaniel had chronic uterine ailments.I visited the zoo the day before with my daughter and saw the mandrills, who were not particularly active or interesting. But we items in various animal enclosures throughout the Tropical Forest pavilion that might factor into the investigation into the mandrill's cause of death: Easter decorations.
On Saturday morning before Easter, zookeepers had introduced Easter decorations of various kinds to a series of exhibits in the Tropical Forest area for the animals to play with -- or eat out of.
The gorilla exhibit was full of colorful streamers, long paper chains, easter baskets, disposable cups, etc., quite a sight. I saw Kiki methodically investigating the inside of an Easter basket, and a couple of other gorillas playing with a few of the items. A zookeeper confirmed my instinct, that the items had been introduced into the gorilla's exhibit in order to provide a mental stimulus for them -- which is particularly important for caged animals with substantial mental capacities like primates.
A number of other animal had similar, albeit fewer, items introduced to their enclosures, although in some cases the items (e.g., woven Easter basket) was merely used to hold food. The bat exhibit was a swarm of activity around the fruit hung next to such an Easter basket. Sadly, I did not take pictures on Saturday. The above photo is taken from a 2005 Boston Globe article on the Franklin Park Zoo's mandrills' mating habits, showing the two mandrills in happier times.
I cannot remember what Easter decorations, if any, had been introduced into the mandrill exhibit, but it was likely that they had something, too. (My daughter was quickly distracted with showing younger children how to push the buttons nearby to light up pictures of various animals, including a photo of a female mandrill in heat with a very colorful tush.)
If there turn out to have been Easter decorations introduced to the mandrill exhibit, I expect that the investigation by the Franklin Park Zoo into the mandrill's death may have to look at the possibility that she ate something inedible. As noted by the Globe above, Mandy had a history of "chronic uterine ailments," but her death nonetheless appeared to be sudden and surprise the zookeepers.