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Baby Orangutan Being Raised by Houston Zoo Staff

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Aping for the camera: The Houston Zoo's newest primate, a 1-month-old female orangutan. (Image credit: Houston Zoo.)

A baby orangutan at the Houston Zoo is being ignored by her mother, but at 1 month old she is doing just fine in the care of zoo workers, the zoo announced today (April 5).

"We were disappointed that the baby's mother, Kelly, did not raise her baby as we had hoped," said Houston Zoo curator of primates and carnivores, Hollie Colahan. "However, we are very happy that Kelly and the baby are healthy."

Because Kelly rejected her, the tiny endangered ape is being reared with round-the-clock, hands-on care from the zoo staff with the help of a furry stuffed animal.

The Bornean orangutan was born March 2, and for 12 hours following the birth, Kelly gave the keeper staff every indication she would nurse the baby.

"Unfortunately, Kelly abandoned the infant later in the day and refused repeated attempts to return the baby to her," Colahan said. The primate staff made the decision to hand-rear the baby with the goal of reintroducing her to another orangutan as quickly as possible.

Since baby orangutans spend their first year of life clinging to their mother, the baby will be clinging to her caregivers (and a stuffed orangutan toy) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until she is ready to move about on her own. The baby's diet is human baby formula. The transition to other foods will occur as she grows and matures.

The infant's caregivers will be monitoring her for developmental milestones over a period of months that will indicate when she is ready to be reintroduced to either Kelly or Cheyenne, a proven surrogate mother. The care team will be closely monitoring Kelly and Cheyenne to gauge their interest in the baby.

Ten thousand years ago, orangutans were found throughout Southeast Asia and into southern China. Scientists believe their populations numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Today orangutans are found only in their last strongholds, on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. Due to habitat encroachment and illegal logging, only 60,000 orangutans are estimated to survive today.

Approximately 7,300 are found in northern Sumatra in Indonesia, in the provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, while the remainder are found on Borneo.

Orangutans are under increasing pressure in the wild. Threats to their survival include logging, poaching and the palm oil plantations that are destroying their rain forest habitat.

The Houston Zoo's newest orangutan still doesn't have a name, and the zoo is inviting the public to submit nominations.

Live Science Staff
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