TORONTO, ON, Thursday, October 7, 2021: Twenty-nine-year-old Sumatran orangutan Sekali is going to be a mother again! She and father-to-be Budi (a fifteen-year-old male Sumatran orangutan) were paired at the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), and the Toronto Zoo is thrilled to further contribute to the future of this critically endangered species. Sekali has had one previous offspring (male Kembali, who still lives at the Toronto Zoo); Budi is a first-time father.
“This pregnancy is an important contribution to a genetically healthy Sumatran orangutan population,” says Dolf DeJong, CEO, Toronto Zoo. “Sumatran orangutans are under increasing pressure due to habitat loss and the palm oil crisis. It is important to educate the public on their plight in the wild and do everything we can to prevent the threats they face and halt declining populations. The role of accredited zoos has never been more critical as the planet continues to lose thousands of species each year as a result of climate change, loss of habitat due to deforestation, mining, development, wildlife trafficking and human/animal conflict. Your Toronto Zoo is proud to participate in the AZA SSP program as well as the Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) Program specifically for orangutans. These programs, as well as our efforts through this conservation breeding program, will help ensure this incredible species continues to survive,” he added.
“We’re thrilled that Sekali and Budi are increasing the population of these critically endangered animals.” said Beth Gilhespy, Executive Director of the Toronto Zoo Wildlife Conservancy. “The new orangutan baby’s impending arrival adds urgency to the completion of the new outdoor orangutan habitat, scheduled for opening in Spring 2022. With the expanded space, our orangutans will have more choice in their daily activities: they can stay inside to enjoy their familiar space, go outside to experience a wider range of sights and sounds, and travel around on special overhead lines to spaces outside the new habitat. The new habitat will enrich the daily lives of the orangutans here at your Toronto Zoo, and inform guests in an impactful way about the issues facing these critically endangered apes, and what people can do each and every day to help their survival in the wild.” Gilhespy added: “With this new spring arrival, now more than ever we encourage donations to the Reaching New Heights for Orangutans campaign, to secure all of the funds to complete the project.”
Both Sekali and Budi were born at the Toronto Zoo and the pair was first introduced in 2017, but Budi was not yet fully mature. Now fifteen years old, Budi has all of the characteristics of a mature male orangutan, and interactions between him and Sekali were very positive when the pair was reintroduced in February 2021. The two engaged in breeding and appear to enjoy each other’s company. Budi and Sekali are continuing to choose to spend time together during this pregnancy.
Orangutans are one of our closest relatives, and they have similar reproductive characteristics to humans. The similarities come in handy: an over-the-counter pregnancy test can be used to detect pregnancy! In aid of this, Animal Care staff have trained Sekali to voluntarily pee into a cup. Your Zoo’s Reproductive Sciences department was able to analyse the urine samples to confirm pregnancy and determine the date of conception as early August 2021. Wildlife Care staff continue to collect urine samples three times per week throughout Sekali’s pregnancy in order to monitor her progress. In aid of her pregnancy, Sekali is now receiving prenatal vitamins – designed for humans and also conveniently available on pharmacy shelves.
Orangutan pregnancies are about a month shorter than in humans, averaging 245 days, or 8 months – putting Sekali’s due date in April 2022. Their babies are also much smaller, generally only 3-5 pounds at birth. It is amazing that mother orangutans gain less than 10 lbs during pregnancy!
In 2017, the conservation status of Sumatran orangutans was upgraded from Endangered to Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). Fewer than 15,000 Sumatran orangutans can be found in the wild. Approximately 95% of these orangutans live in the Greater Leuser Ecosystem on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, and the Toronto Zoo actively supports conservation work for orangutans and other species in this fragile habitat. The world has lost an estimated 120,000 orangutans in the past decade, primarily due to habitat loss. Every day acres and acres of the Sumatran rainforest – the orangutan’s natural habitat – is removed to make way for oil palm plantations. The Toronto Zoo currently houses the only Sumatran orangutans in Canada. As part of the AZA Sumatran Orangutan SSP, thirteen orangutans have been raised at your Toronto Zoo since 1974, with this upcoming birth being the first since 2006.