After months of around-the-clock hand-raising by a team of 50 trained care givers, Aurora – the Houston Zoo’s baby Bornean orangutan – has finally been adopted by surrogate orangutan mother, Cheyenne.
Aurora was abandoned by her mother, Kelly, shortly after her birth in early March of 2011. Concerned for Aurora’s welfare, the Houston Zoo primate care team decided to step in and hand-rear the infant. After nine months of dedicated 24-hour care, always in view of the Zoo’s other orangutans, Cheyenne began to take interest in Aurora.
“As Aurora became more independent of her care givers, moving about more on her own, the primate care team taught her to go through what’s called a ‘creep door’, a very small opening in doors between rooms in the off exhibit night house at Wortham World of Primates,” said Assistant Curator of Primates Lynn Killam.
At first, “Aurora chose not to go completely through it, instead touching and playing with Cheyenne through the small gap as Cheyenne reached her arm through,” explains Killam. But when she was finally comfortable enough to come through the door, “Cheyenne picked her up and carried her across the room,” said Killam. For the next seven hours Cheyenne and Aurora were inseparable.
“What we saw was an orangutan mom who is experienced and nuanced in her care,” said Killam. “It was a wonderful day.”
Bornean orangutans are listed as endangered by the IUCN Redlist, and the total population is an estimated 14 percent or less of what it was in the recent past. Over the years, habitat destruction, largely attributed to the conversion of tropical forests into palm oil plantations (as discussed in our Oragnutans andd Granola Bars post from September), has contributed to the dramatic decline of orangutan populations in the wild.
AZA zoos, like the Houston Zoo, contribute to and participate in orangutan conservation projects all over the world. To learn more about the Houston Zoo’s Bornean orangutan conservation initiative, visit http://www.houstonzoo.org/bornean-orangutan-conservation/.