Employees at a zoo in Cheshire, England are celebrating the birth of an endangered Bornean orangutan infant.
Chester Zoo staff were surprised when mother Leia gave birth to her second baby, since she tested negative just months before.
Orangutans are typically pregnant for 259 days, or eight and a half months.
Zookeepers said the new arrival is “bright and alert” and suckling well from Leia, who is protective of her new baby. The baby was born in June, but Leia had kept it hidden from keepers since its birth.
Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as critically endangered in the wild. Threatened by illegal hunting, habitat destruction and the loss of much of their forest home to palm oil plantations, the species has been pushed to the brink of existence.
Recent estimates suggest as few as 55,000 Bornean orangutans live on the island of Borneo, the only place they can be found in the wild.
With a huge population decline, the orangutans at Chester Zoo are part of a vital international breeding program to help conserve the species.
One of the zoo’s goals is to ensure its captive bred animals, such as the African prairie dog, can be successfully reintroduced to the wild.
“It was a wonderful surprise to arrive one morning to see her protectively cradling a beautiful new arrival,” said primate zookeeper Chris Yarwood.
“Leia enjoys spending lots of time alone with her baby and has so far been quite shy about showing it off. She always keeps it really close to her, so we’ve not yet been able to clearly determine what the gender of the infant is,” he said.
Chester Zoo is working with conservation partners HUTAN in a bid to protect wild orangutans in Borneo. It currently houses 35,000 animals.
Conservationists have been conducting research in the Kinabatangan, home to one of the largest populations in the Sabah region of the island, to better understand how orangutans are adapting to the increase in oil palm plantations and the new landscapes they have created.
“There’s still a huge need to tackle the excessive deforestation in Borneo and show people everywhere that they can make a difference to the long-term survival of orangutans,” said Nick Davis, the zoo’s deputy curator of mammals.
“We really hope Leia’s new baby helps to further highlight how simple everyday choices, like choosing products which contain only sustainably sourced palm oil, can have a massive impact on the future of these remarkable animals,” he said.
Chester Zoo is campaigning against the use of unsustainable palm oil in household and food items and is working with governmental organizations and industries to adopt Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil practices.
(Edited by Fern Siegel and Carlin Becker)
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