Yesterday, the Brookfield Zoo announced the birth of a highly endangered Bornean orangutan. An infant orangutan’s dependency on its mother is longer than any other mammal. Because of this long dependency, there is approximately a six- to eight-year interval between births in order for the offspring to learn how to survive in the complex rain forest. This is only the second orangutan expected to be born in the United States this year.
This looks like one happy mom!
Bornean Orangutan Born at Brookfield Zoo Brookfield, IL—Chicago Zoological Society staff are pleased to announce the birth of a Bornean orangutan—a highly endangered species in the wild. The female, born on the evening of October 6, is only the second birth of an orangutan expected in an accredited North American zoo this year. She can be seen on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays until about 12:45 p.m. with her mom, Sophia, 27; father, Ben, 30; half sister, Mei, 10; and brother, Denda, 6, in the Asia section of Tropic World. Brookfield Zoo’s two other orangutan groups, each with two individuals, are rotated on exhibit when the family group is off exhibit. Those who are not able to see the new addition can view video and photos of her at www.CZS.org. An infant orangutan’s dependency on its mother is longer than any other mammal. Because of this long dependency, there is approximately a six- to eight-year interval between births in order for the offspring to learn how to survive in the complex rain forest. An infant may nurse from its mother for up to five years and stays close by her up to age 8. Females remain with their mothers into their teens to get the opportunity to observe their mothers raise another infant. This gives them the knowledge they will need when it is time for them to raise their own. Zoo guests will see Sophia’s baby nursing and most likely sleeping for long periods. For about the next 10 months or so, the infant will continuously cling to Sophia. In addition, guests may observe the baby’s brother and half sister being very inquisitive toward the new family addition. Although very protective of her newborn, Sophia allows the two youngsters an occasional sniff or touch. “The birth of this infant is significant to the zoo population but hopefully her birth will also help raise awareness regarding the plight of orangutans in the wild,” said Nava Greenblatt, lead keeper of primates for the Chicago Zoological Society. Orangutans once lived over much of Southeast Asia, but their range and population have been dramatically reduced. Their natural habitat—the rain-forest islands of Sumatra and Borneo—is being decimated. Huge tracts of the rain forests are being logged and converted to palm oil plantations. Palm oil is increasingly being used as a food ingredient and cooking oil in a variety of baked goods and candies. While palm oil is very high in saturated fats that could increase the risk of heart attacks, it is low in trans fat, so many companies are using it in order to advertise “no trans fat" products to consumers. Other contributors to the decline of the species are the illegal pet trade and poaching. In October 2007, animal management experts, researchers, and field biologists from around the world gathered at Brookfield Zoo for an Orangutan Husbandry Workshop, a first in a nationwide effort to address the rapidly diminishing orangutan population and to discuss the impact that human behavior is having on the species. The informative workshop also taught participants about proper social management of orangutans in zoos and rehabilitation centers and promoted public awareness of the challenges this critically endangered ape faces in the wild. There are an estimated 61,000 orangutans left in the wild, and the population has declined by 50 percent since 1990. Researchers predict that about 5,000 orangutans die every year and that if this current rate of decline continues the species will be extinct in the wild by 2025. The Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, is a participant in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative population management and conservation program for the species. The program manages the breeding of orangutans in zoos to maintain a healthy, self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. The pairing of Sophia and Ben, who are on breeding loans from San Diego Zoo, CA, and Henry Doorly Zoo, NE, respectively, was based on a recommendation by the Orangutan SSP. This is Sophia’s fifth offspring and Ben’s third. Currently, there are 83 Bornean and 81 Sumatran orangutans in North American zoos. Carol Sodaro, associate curator of mammals for CZS, is also the husbandry advisor for the Orangutan SSP. In this position, which she has held since 1992, Sodaro has consulted with 50 of the 51 institutions that participate in the Orangutan SSP on husbandry issues. She has also consulted with zoos worldwide, including in Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. In addition, she is the point person for the Ape Taxon Advisory Group for Orangutan Birth Management and has consulted on almost every orangutan birth that has taken place in an AZA zoo over the past eight years. To educate and illustrate the importance of orangutan conservation to Brookfield Zoo guests, the Chicago Zoological Society is participating in International Orangutan Awareness Week on Saturday and Sunday, November 15 and 16. During the weekend event, there will be a craft activity for youngsters and a display featuring orangutan handprints and the diet they receive at the zoo. Volunteers will also have a list of companies and products that are publicly committed to being “orangutan-friendly,” utilizing sustainable methods for acquiring palm oil. The list, produced by the Orangutan Conservancy, may also be downloaded at www.CZS.org. In addition, special Zoo Chats featuring an informal presentation on Brookfield Zoo’s orangutans, including the baby, will be presented by staff each day at 1:00 p.m. in front of the orangutan exhibit. Orangutans are the only truly arboreal member of the great apes. The word orangutan comes from the Malay words for “person of the forest.” These reddish-orange to maroon primates are the largest animals to inhabit the rain-forest canopy. Adult males can weigh up to 300 pounds, females up to 125 pounds. Their mass of long hair makes them seem even larger. Orangutan arms are much longer in relation to their body, spanning almost seven feet. The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, is to inspire conservation leadership by connecting people with wildlife and nature. Open every day of the year, the zoo is located off First Avenue between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and is also accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, CTA, and PACE bus service.