Surprises make our lives interesting in fun, but nothing compares to one that comes in the form of a new life.
The Bornean orangutan family in Chester Zoo recently grew by one after primate parents, Leia and Willie, welcomed a baby on June 18. Although a delightful event, the birth came as a shock to the enclosure keepers as Leia’s previous pregnancy tests all returned negative results.
Orangutan pregnancies typically last for 259 days (eight and a half months). Leia’s last test was completed only a few months before the baby’s arrival, which means she must have been well into her pregnancy when the final test was done.
“The pregnancy tests we had carried out on Leia in the months prior to the birth had actually returned negative results. It was therefore a wonderful surprise to arrive one morning to see her protectively cradling a beautiful new arrival,” Chris Yarwood, a primate keeper at the enclosure, said.
Although the zoo wasn’t fully prepared when the baby came, the birth still went smoothly. Staff says the infant is “bright and alert” and suckling well from its mother.
Like every mom, Leia took up the role of a doting parent once the little orangutan was born. It’s apparent how protective she is of her child, seeing as she carries it with her everywhere. She’s also very keen on not overexposing her. For this reason, the staff were only recently able to capture a few snaps of the mother-and-child duo, even though a few months have already passed since its arrival.
Leia has done such a great job keeping her kid inconspicuous that the keepers have yet to determine the infant’s gender.
This is the orangutan mother’s second baby, and just like the first time, she’s doing a fantastic job caring for her child.
The baby’s surprise birth is good news not just for everyone at the zoo, but also for animal conservationists worldwide. Bornean orangutans are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and palm oil plantations are among the biggest threats to their species.
There are about 55,000 wild Bornean orangutans left on the island of Borneo in Indonesia – the only location where the species can be found in the wild. This means every orangutan newborn is critical to conserving these animals’ genetic diversity.
If worse comes to worst, the case is that we could lose these primates forever, according to Dr. Nick Davis, the zoo’s deputy curator of mammals.
“It’s absolutely vital therefore that there’s a sustainable population of Bornean orangutans in the world’s progressive zoos — every addition to the European endangered species breeding program is so, so important,” he said.
The birth of Leia’s second baby is part of the Chester Zoo’s orangutan breeding program. Together with its conservation partner HUTAN, the organization helps orangutans in the wild by building bridges between fragmented areas in the Indonesian forests. The goal behind this project is to make sure that wild orangutans can roam those areas safely.
Dr. Davis says people everywhere “can make a difference to the long-term survival of orangutans.”
“We really hope that Leia’s new baby helps to further highlight how simple everyday choices, like choosing products which contain only sustainably sourced palm oil, can have a massive impact on the future of these remarkable animals,” he said.
Hopefully, this birth will be the first of many to come for orangutans in the zoo and the wild.
See the adorable baby orangutan clinging to its mother in the video below.
May this story encourage us to make better choices for our environment and all the living beings in it. Share this story to raise awareness about the critically endangered Bornean orangutans.