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Baby Orangutan Makes a Dramatic Entry at Zoo Atlanta

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A male Sumatran Orangutan infant born at Zoo Atlanta on January 10 came into the world in an unusual way:  he was delivered by Caesarean section with the help of human obstetricians, neonatologists, and veterinary anesthesiologists.   This Caesarian section is one of only three to be performed on Sumatran Orangutans in recent years. 

Zoo Atlanta’s animal care staff planned for this important delivery for months.  The baby’s 16-year-old mother, Blaze, is a small-bodied female, and she had a previous infant who did not survive the birth process, possibly due to Blaze’s small size.

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Photo Credits:  Zoo Atlanta

The Caesarian section was performed by the Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team in conjunction with a human obstetrical team, a veterinary anesthesia team, and a human neonatal team (including a respiratory therapist, nurse, and neonatal cardiac specialist), all from nearby hospitals and universities.

"It was an exciting honor to be included in this team of specialists to help Blaze give birth successfully," said Sandy Jun, MD, of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.  "It was very rewarding to use our human neonatal skills to deliver this orangutan newborn safely, and we were glad to find that many of those skills translated seamlessly across species. It is not something we will forget."

Blaze appears to be recovering normally from the procedure, and her infant is currently in a nursery unit in the care of the Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team and primate care professionals. The team hopes to reintroduce the infant to Blaze as soon as possible so that the new mother may begin bonding with her newborn.

“We’re delighted that Blaze’s infant has arrived safely, and that infant and mother seem to be doing well,” said Raymond King, President and CEO. “We’re doubly grateful for the support and participation of such a wide range of outside medical experts, all coming together with our team to follow an extremely well-executed plan with a superb level of professionalism and dedication.” 

Blaze, who was trained to participate in voluntary ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy, has been under round-the-clock observation since her birth window began on January 2. 

The infant’s father, 33-year-old Benny, has been temporarily separated from Blaze but will be reunited with her and his new offspring soon. Zoo Atlanta is home to the nation’s largest zoological collection of Orangutans, now with 14 individuals.

Now believed to number fewer than 7,000 in the wild, Sumatran Orangutan populations have declined drastically in recent years as a result of habitat conversion to palm oil plantations, over-harvesting of timber, and human encroachment. Without targeted conservation efforts, experts predict that the species could be extinct in the wild within 10 years.