A beautiful male Sumatran Orangutan was born at Basel Zoo on March 4 and has been given the name ‘Ombak’. Ombak is a Malay word that means ‘wave’ or ‘surge’.
According to keepers, the infant’s 17-year-old mother, Kila, has become a very caring parent since the birth of her child. Ombak is Kila’s first child, but the role of mother is not a new one to her: her mother died when she was nine years old and Kila “adopted” her then two-year-old sister Maia (10), who now also lives at Basel Zoo.
Kila currently shares her enclosure with male Orangutan Bagus (15), who is showing a friendly interest but maintaining a respectful distance from her and her child. Kila has also been isolating herself in confusing situations, such as when the enclosure is being cleaned. Whether or not Bagus is Ombak’s father remains unclear: other candidates are Vendel (17) and Budi (13).
Kila arrived at Basel Zoo from Leipzig in 2012. When she first arrived at the Zoo, keepers recall she was a “little minx: nothing could frighten her and she was always the first to try out something new”. However, as soon as her new son, Ombak, was born her temper changed completely. She is now extremely cautious when she heads out into the outdoor enclosure, and her forays are only very short. She has also become a picky eater, whereas before she ate absolutely everything that was put in front of her. Despite her reticence, Kila likes to show her baby off to the Zookeepers. She even lets Zoo vets take a closer look at Ombak, but only if she is given a reward.
Baby Ombak is still entirely dependent on his mother and clings steadfastly to her fur. This clinging reflex is vital to the survival of newborn Orangutans. In the wild, Orangutans move about high up in the tops of tropical rainforests, and mothers need their hands to climb.
Orangutans are loners, so juveniles cannot learn from other members of the group, as Chimpanzees or Gorillas do. Their mothers are their only source of knowledge. Ombak will be reliant on, and suckled by, his mother for six to seven years, and only after this period is over can Kila become pregnant again. This is one of the longest gaps between births of all mammal species.
Ombak and Kila live with Vendel, Revital (17), Ketawa (4), Budi, Bagus and Maia who all came to Basel in 2012 as new arrivals after the renovation of the Zoo’s monkey house (except for Ketawa who was born at Basel Zoo).
Sumatran Orangutans (Pongo abelii) are currently classified as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN. The species is already extinct in many regions of Sumatra. There are currently just 14,000 individual animals still living in the forests to the north of the island.
Basel Zoo supports an Orangutan conservation project in Borneo with 40,000 US dollars a year. The Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Programme aims to maintain the last rainforest areas in northeastern Malaysia. The diverse flora and fauna should be protected, including the Orangutans. The project integrates the local population’s interests into its nature and species conservation activities. Basel Zoo has supported the project since 2010.