Audubon Zoo’s newborn male orangutan is receiving around-the-clock care by the Zoo’s veterinary and primate care staff under consultation from specialists from Children’s Hospital New Orleans and AZA Orangutan Species Survival Plan advisors.
On December 27, the infant showed signs of weakness and lack of nursing. Based on concerns about the infant’s body temperature and weight, the team intervened to hand-rear and bottle-feed the infant until it can safely be reunited with Menari.
“The infant’s care team also noticed that his suckling response was weak and inconsistent,” said Audubon’s Senior Veterinarian Bob MacLean. “Children’s Hospital New Orleans offered their support for the critically endangered infant by providing the expertise of a clinical speech pathologist and lactation specialists. The lactation specialists are working with the infant to assess his suckling reflex and train our team to stimulate the appropriate suckling response. So far, this has been very successful.”
Children’s Hospital is analyzing the infant’s blood at the hospital, providing Audubon with faster results than a veterinary laboratory. Lab work thus far indicates possible central hypothyroidism.
"Central hypothyroidism slows normal metabolic growth and is relatively rare, found in only 1 in 100,000 human infants," MacLean explained. "While we are waiting to validate results, we plan to administer medication to mitigate the condition as well as work with the Species Survival Plan veterinary advisor to prepare a plan for treatment should this prove problematic."
There are a number of key milestones the infant will need to achieve before reuniting with his mother. The infant needs to establish a consistent suckling response, and Menari will need to produce enough milk to sustain him--Orangutan SSP experts indicated it could take up to two weeks for her to develop full milk production. The infants care team also needs to assess the infant’s possible hypothyroidism and his response to treatment.
"We have high hopes that he will continue to improve under the 24/7 care of our dedicated primate team," said Audubon Zoo’s Vice President and General Curator Bob Lessnau. "We are so thankful for our expert team of consultants and for the community’s outpouring of support for this critically endangered infant."
Regular updates on the newborn will be shared on Audubon’s social media channels.