Cameron Park Zoo officials removed an almost 3-week-old orangutan from his mother’s care after the mother, Mei, started pulling the baby off her and behaving abnormally, said Terri Cox, the zoo’s curator for programs and exhibits.
Mei, who gave birth to a baby boy named Razak on Jan. 12, became inattentive to the newborn before animal care staff separated them during the weekend. Cox said Mei, an 18-year-old Bornean orangutan, is still next to Razak and able to see and touch her child.
“It is very important for a baby orangutan’s development that he cling to his mother, because they live high in the trees in the wild, so it is important to have strong muscles,” Cox said. “When she would continually take him off of her, we became concerned for his safety if he could be injured . . . and also, she would not immediately respond when he would cry when she would take him off.”
Concerned for his emotional and physical development, zoo staff consulted with Orangutan Species Survival Plan officials before deciding to separate the baby orangutan from his mother. Zoo staffers are continuing to feed the infant by hand with a combination of breast milk and formula until Mei starts to show signs of lower anxiety and may begin nursing again.
“If you think about it for human mothers, it is quite a strain, and if the child is continuously holding onto you, I think it was just a little too much for her right now,” Cox said. “We don’t exactly know why this happens, but because orangutans are such critically endangered animals, it is really important for us to make sure he is healthy and safe.”
The baby is adjusting well to this new care regime, and Mei’s level of anxiety appears to be improving, Cox said. Staffers are continually monitoring the mother and son, and the baby’s father, Kerajaan, or KJ, a 27-year-old male orangutan, remains attentive and close to his son.
“KJ is an awesome father and gets upset if Razak starts to cry,” Cox said. “Hopefully, Mei will be willing to nurse (Razak), and we will be able to get them back together.”
Updates on Razak’s development, milestones and activities will be highlighted on Cameron Park Zoo’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cameronparkzoo.