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Aurora, Houston Zoo's Orphaned Baby Orangutan, Gets a Mom


After months of tender loving care and sleepless nights, a team of 50 trained Houston Zoo care givers who have been hand-raising baby orangutan Aurora, achieved its ultimate goal – Aurora’s ‘adoption’ by the Zoo’s experienced surrogate orangutan mom Cheyenne.

Aurora was born on March 2 of 2011. After the first 12 hours, birth mom Kelly abandoned the infant and refused repeated attempts by zoo staff to return the baby to her. Concerned for Aurora’s welfare, the primate care team made the decision to hand rear the baby.

For 9 months, always in view of the Zoo’s other orangutans, a total 50 different volunteers assisted the Houston Zoo’s primate care team in that process. Aurora clung to her care givers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can see a remarkable video about that process in our ZooBorns article published last April. When Aurora was thriving and ready to move on, the care team closely monitored Kelly and Cheyenne to gauge their interest in the baby.

“As Aurora became more independent of her care givers, we taught her to go through what’s called a ‘creep door’, a very small opening in doors between rooms in the off-exhibit night house,” said Killam.

On December 28, the creep door between Cheyenne and Aurora was opened for the first time. “Aurora chose not to go completely through it, instead touching and playing with Cheyenne, who reached her arm through,” said Killam. The next day, Cheyenne chose not to play with Aurora through the creep door, but instead sat just outside it. She waited patiently until Aurora came through the on her own and then Cheyenne picked Aurora up and carried her across the room.  

Cheyenne carried Aurora around for the next 7 hours, even allowing Aurora to ride on her head. The two shared produce and cereal and fruit juice together; the primate care team was able to give Aurora her bottles right next to Cheyenne. Several times Cheyenne would do somersaults around Aurora as the little orangutan watched in amazement. “It was a wonderful day,” said Killam. 

The two can now be seen in the outdoor habitat together and all is well.



Photo Credits: Stephanie Adams/Houston Zoo