2nd endangered orangutan baby in 2 years at New Orleans zoo

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It’s cute, cuddled, red-haired, and critically endangered — and the second Sumatran orangutan born in two years at the zoo in New Orleans.

Veterinarians haven’t yet been able to weigh, measure and determine the sex of the baby born early Sunday to 12-year-old Reese, Audubon Zoo spokeswoman Annie Kinler Matherne said Monday.

“Reese is cuddling and being very attentive with the infant, but we cannot confirm lactation and nursing just yet,” Matherne said in an email.

Sumatran orangutans are one of three species of the long-haired great apes. Fewer than 14,000 are believed to live in the wild and their numbers are declining dramatically as development, mining and palm oil plantations fragment their forest habitat, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The baby is Reese’s first, but she has seen two different orangutans giving birth and raising babies — her own mother at Albuquerque BioPark Zoo in New Mexico, and Audubon’s orangutan matriarch, Feliz, in 2019, the statement noted.

The birth just before the zoo opened Sunday was a bit of a surprise. Veterinarians knew Reese was pregnant but early signs and physical changes indicated birth was likely in April or May, the zoo said.

Although zoos often wait a week or two to ensure that a baby is healthy before announcing its birth, “we wanted to be transparent with guests as to why we had the orangutan area blocked off in order to give the group, mother, and infant time to bond,” Matherne said.

The father is Jambi, who also sired 2-year-old Bulan.

“Reese and Bulan have a special bond, and are often spotted eating, sleeping, or foraging together in their habitat,” the news release said. “This experience with infants has helped to prepare Reese to become a mother.”

Jambi, who came from the Hanover Zoo in Germany in 2018, is classified as one of the most genetically valuable males in North America, the zoo said.

“To help orangutans in the wild, we recommend purchasing products with sustainably grown palm oil,” curator of primates Liz Wilson said. “Around the world, those using sustainable practices in logging and agriculture are demonstrating that it is possible to conserve wildlife habitat while supporting the local economy.”

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