It was an exciting morning of April 24 for keepers at the Jackson Zoo when Bornean orangutan Sabah gave birth in her off exhibit bedroom. The 35 year old orangutan gave birth to her fourth infant, though her first with mate Pumpkin, 28 years old.
Deputy Director Dave Wetzel reminds us that “the first few days of the orangutan’s life are very fragile. Sabah is proving to be an excellent mother, so for now the best plan of action is to allow her to care for and bond with her new infant.” Sabah and baby are currently in their off exhibit area. Over the next several weeks the pair will be introduced to the male and then she will be given the opportunity to go out. Until that time, Pumpkin will be on exhibit for zoo visitors.
“Sabah is an experienced mother and right now she’s holding the baby close and nursing, so we haven’t gotten a good look to see if it’s a boy or girl just yet. Right now, we’re just happy to have a healthy infant,” adds Willie Bennett, Animal Care Supervisor and the keeper that discovered Sabah’s new arrival.
Sabah arrived at the Jackson Zoo in mid-April and the introductory period took place over several months. When Sabah and Pumpkin finally came face to face in July, Deputy Director Dave Wetzel announced to staff “that if they get along like that, we’ll be having an orang baby in 10 months.”
The transfer of Sabah from her home at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to the Jackson Zoo was arranged through the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan or SSP. SSPs determine which animals are placed together. “We like to think of SSPs as ZHarmony, a matchmaking service for zoo animals,” says Director Beth Poff. “In order to maintain healthy genetic zoo populations, individuals may need to move homes, much like individuals would in the wild to find mates.”
Bornean orangutans are found on the island Borneo where they live in complex social networks. Approximately 60% of their diet is made up of fruits, making them a vital player in the role of seed dispersal and directly impacting the forest on which they rely. The Bornean Orangutan is classified as Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, with fewer than 50,000 individuals remaining in the wild. As they only give birth to one infant every six to eight years their numbers are declining fast, as a result of the extreme rate at which forest habitat in Indonesia is being destroyed. Habitat loss and fragmentation are major threats due to the development of oil palm plantations used for the production of palm oil, an ingredient in many everyday products such as cosmetics, hygiene products, and processed foods.