By JANET McCONNAUGHEY – Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The critically endangered 2-month-old orangutan, still so small that baby-sized diapers were hanging loosely in front of her belly, clung tightly to the fingers of a caretaker as she gently lifted him from her lap.
Roux, born on Christmas Eve 2021, needs to grow strong enough to hold her mother around the clock – and Menari, 12, is the ‘wild child’ of Audubon Zoo’s orangutans, Kelsey Forbes says, the assistant primate curator.
“She’s our greatest acrobat – kinda crazy,” Forbes said Tuesday.
Thus, every day, Roux benefits from several “baby boot camp” sessions, including pull-ups to strengthen his grip and his arms.
The Sumatran orangutans at the zoo, like the other two orangutan species, are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Illegal hunting and the loss and fragmentation of the forests where they live are the main reasons why their numbers are declining in the wild.
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So Roux is an important baby.
He and his two half-sisters – Madu, born February 28, 2021, and Bulan, born July 2019 – account for a third of all orangutans born since the start of 2019 under the species survival program. orangutans.
Three were born in 2019, one in 2020, three in 2021 and two so far this year, program spokeswoman Angela Selzer said Thursday. Another baby, born this year at the San Diego Zoo, was a Sumatran orangutan; the other five were from Borneo.
It’s the guards who pull the most for Roux, lifting him up and down as he grabs their thumbs or fingers. But Roux also sometimes straightens up by hanging in their hands.
Strength isn’t the only thing he needs to find Menari, Forbes and curator Liz Wilson said Tuesday.
He drinks 80 to 90 milliliters (2.7 to 3 ounces) of formula every 3.5 hours.
Guardians want to reduce the number of nighttime feedings, Forbes said. “Orangutans mainly sleep from sunset to sunrise. We want to be able to mimic that as much as possible,” she said.
And there’s another workout, in case Menari, a first-time mother, didn’t produce enough milk – the problem that left her baby so weak he needed constant medical attention for a month. He must be able to drink an entire bottle passed through the mesh of the den.
When he was first taken to Menari, Roux – who was not yet named – couldn’t even breastfeed, Forbes said. He was fed through a thin tube inserted through his nose to his stomach, and his guardians’ duties were to make sure he did not pick or pull him.
An expert at New Orleans Children’s Hospital taught staff “tips and tricks” that included massaging the baby’s palate and gums before each feeding, Forbes said.
“He did it fantastically,” Forbes said.
His weight dropped from 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) to 5.6 pounds (2.54 kg) on Thursday. Although he was a full-term baby, he began to be underweight, possibly because he was a twin, Forbes said Thursday. The other baby was stillborn.
He spends much of the day with a keeper in indoor spaces, including a bedroom, where older animals can see him but not approach him. They come from their large outdoor yard to watch, Forbes said.
“They like it when it makes noise. They love during diaper changes. They really like it during feedings,” she said.
In the den, he can crawl over different sizes of fire hoses and other objects.
When the zoo is closed, he is taken for walks around the zoo, including brisk walking and sharp turns to hold him firmly.
The baby was named this month. Its name, pronounced “roo”, is French for the reddish brown, long hair color of an orangutan, and for the cooked mixture of flour and oil or butter used to thicken okra and other foods.
His father, Jambi, fathered all three Audubon youngsters since arriving in New Orleans in 2018 from Hanover, Germany.
Bulan, whose mother is the same as Menari’s, constantly follows her half-sister, who plays with her.
Forbes says Guardians don’t expect jealousy to be an issue when Roux and her mother are together.
“Not at all! We think Bulan will be happy to have another playmate. Same with Madu!” she said Thursday.
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