The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans will be welcoming two additions to its family this winter in a species that wildlife groups consider critically endangered.
Menari, the zoo’s 12-year-old female Sumatran orangutan, is expecting twins whose father is Jambi, the zoo’s male orangutan, the zoo announced Thursday.
The births will be the first for Menari and they are expected sometime in December or January.
“We are very excited about this pregnancy,” said the zoo’s Senior Veterinarian Bob MacLean in a news release.
MacLean said that twinning is extremely rare in orangutans, with there being only about a 1% chance of it happening.
Twins were born at the same zoo in 1985 to the orangutan Sarah — Bon Temps aka “Bonnie” and Lagniappe aka “Lana” — both of which were raised at Audubon Zoo, according to zoo officials.
Lana is still alive and resides at the Greenville Zoo in South Carolina. Bonnie died in 2016 at Zoo Miami.
While she’s never given birth before, zoo officials say Menari was able to observe her mother, Feliz, give birth and raise her half-sister Bulan in 2019.
The staff is working with Menari to train her for motherhood but also to ensure that she will be comfortable with the possibility of staff stepping in to help take care of one or both newborns if necessary.
“The bond between an orangutan and her young is among the strongest in nature. Orangutans stay with their mothers longer than most mammals and female orangutans will continue to visit their mothers well into their teens,” said Jan Vertefeuille of World Wildlife Fund in an email to NPR.
Vertefeuille says the bond between orangutans and their children, however, plays a role in the species extinction — that orangutan mothers are most likely to be killed rather than giving up their children when poachers seek babies for illegal wildlife trade.
The World Wildlife Fund cites the pet trade and habitat loss as two of the biggest threats facing the world’s orangutan species.
There are believed to be fewer than 14,000 Sumatran orangutans living in the wild, as palm oil plantations spread into their habitats.