For the first time in 25 years, an orangutan was born at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Staff at the zoo say the male newborn has been nursing and clinging to his mother, a Bornean orangutan named Batang, since his birth Monday night. According to a statement from the zoo, the staff “are cautiously optimistic that the newborn will thrive.”
Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus)—which, like Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii), are a critically endangered species—give birth about every eight years.
For the past three years, National Zoo staff have been training Batang to care for an infant. They’ve also trained female orangutans Bonnie and Iris to act as surrogate mothers in case Batang is unable to care for her baby.
A newborn Bornean orangutan lies in its mother’s arms at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C [Image: Alex Reddy, Smithsonian's National Zoo]
The zoo announced in June that 19-year-old Batang had become pregnant with 19-year-old Kyle, a male Bornean orangutan. If the newborn and his mother continue to thrive, visitors will be able to view them at the zoo with father Kyle, as well as Bonnie, Iris, Kiko, and Lucy—all of whom are adult Bornean-Sumatran mixes.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates today’s population of Bornean orangutans at between 45,000 and 69,000. (Scientists also say there are roughly 14,600 orangutans in Sumatra.)
Since the early 1970s, 40 percent of Borneo's forest cover has disappeared, much of it stripped for oil palm plantations, and that trend will likely continue. In Kalimantan, for instance, 80 percent of the orangutan’s range isn’t protected, and clearing for oil palm plantations is pushing the apes into ever smaller forest fragments.