Signs of hope emerge for critically endangered baby orangutan

February 15, 2022
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The newborn orangutan at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is making progress, clinging better and becoming more vocal, keepers say.

The baby, a critically endangered Sumatran orangutan, was separated from his mother because of lethargy. He is now fed with a feeding tube by his caretakers and has been shown to his orangutan group, and “they have shown a lot of interest in the new little guy,” this week’s update said.

“We are thrilled to say that our little guy is doing better and gaining weight! His feeding reflex is improving and the staff has found a new formula that is working better,” the update says. “However, there is still a feeding tube in place to ensure he is getting his daily caloric requirements.”

The zoo had enlisted experts in human infant development to tackle the orangutan’s suckling issues. Test results did rule out one concern: hypothyroidism.

The zoo is still not sure when the newborn will be able to rejoin his mother, Menari. “He still has a ways to go,” the update said.

“He has become more vocal over the last few days and is clinging better to his caregivers, which shows that he is getting stronger. However, the infant is still not out of the woods and continues to receive antibiotics and IV fluids,” the zoo said in a Jan. 6 update.

Twelve-year-old Menari gave birth to the baby without trouble on Christmas Eve and was mothering it appropriately, but lost a twin. The birth is important because fewer than 14,000 Sumatran orangutans live in the wild and their numbers are declining as palm oil plantations spread into their forest habitat, according to the Audubon Nature Institute, which runs the zoo.

The great apes named for their long red hair are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

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