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Remy the Orangutan Finds a Surrogate Mother


An infant ape who journeyed from Texas to be fostered by one of the nation’s best surrogate mothers is now beginning to explore his outdoor habitat. Remy, a 4-month-old male Sumatran Orangutan from the Fort Worth Zoo, is adjusting well and has been accepted by Madu, a 27-year-old Sumatran Orangutan at Zoo Atlanta. The infant, whose full name is Rembulan Wajah (Rembulan means “moon;” Wajah, “face,” in Indonesian) was born on November 26, 2010. His biological mother became very ill and was unable to care for Remy. Although she has since improved, she remains under close veterinary supervision. The Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP) identified Madu as the top candidate for surrogacy, as she has successfully reared two previous foster infants.

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Photo credits: Courtesy of Zoo Atlanta

“It’s critical that orangutans be raised by other orangutans. Orangutan mothers provide life skills that humans can’t offer,” said Lori Perkins, Director of Animal Programs at Zoo Atlanta and the Chair of the Orangutan SSP. “Remy had to have an orangutan mother, and Madu is an excellent surrogate with the abilities and instincts to give him the care he needs.”

Now that Madu and her newest adoptive son have bonded and Remy has passed several important developmental milestones, the pair has begun making appearances in their outdoor exhibit in the Zoo’s Asian Forest. Visitors may get a glimpse of the tiny ape on sunny days when winds are low and temperatures are above 70.

Born May 13, 1983, at Zoo Atlanta, Madu has no offspring of her own. She reared her first foster infant, Bernas, in 2002 after his biological mother failed to demonstrate appropriate maternal care. Madu’s success with Bernas led the Orangutan SSP to hand-pick her for parenting again in 2006, when the biological mother of Dumadi, an infant born at Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, passed away unexpectedly. As was the case with Bernas and Dumadi, Madu is trained to assist keepers in caring for Remy by bringing him forward on request for regular bottle feedings and medications.

Native to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, Sumatran orangutans are vanishing in the wild as a result of habitat conversion to palm oil plantations, over-harvesting of timber and human encroachment. Experts predict that the species could be extinct in 10 years without targeted conservation efforts. Zoo Atlanta houses the nation’s largest zoological collection of orangutans, now with 13 Sumatran and Bornean individuals living in separate family groups.