A highly endangered baby Sumatran orangutan was born via Cesarean section at the Memphis Zoo March 19, 2016. The baby, a male, is doing well, and is being reared by his mother, “Jahe” (Jah-hay). To celebrate the excitement of the new addition, the Zoo is hosting a naming contest that kicks off April 14 at noon and runs through April 21 at noon via the Zoo’s website.
C-sections on orangutans are rare, with only 18 of the 2,224 births in the International Orangutan Studbook being performed in this manner. Of these, Jahe and baby will be the ninth pair to survive the C-section birth.
To ensure the best possible care for the mother, a human obstetrician, Dr. Joseph C. DeWane, performed the C-section, with assistance from the veterinarian and animal care staff of the Memphis Zoo. The orangutan weighed 5 pounds, 4 ounces, which is large for a baby of this species. This is the first Sumatran orangutan birth at the Memphis Zoo since 2004.
"I was honored to be a part of this historic event at the Memphis Zoo,” said DeWane. “Our community is so blessed to have one of the top five zoos in the country. I know every time I visit the zoo, I will make a special trip to see Jahe and her baby.”
Due to the mother’s surgery, the Memphis Zoo animal and veterinarian staff hand-reared the baby while Jahe recovered. Staff held and fed the infant around the clock, and spent their daytime hours in the orangutan building with Jahe where she could have visual access to him. Jahe’s interest in the baby was encouraged and reinforced and she was allowed to touch and examine him through the mesh as often as she liked while the keepers held him.
After 12 days, Jahe’s incision had healed well, and animal care staff orchestrated an introduction. Jahe immediately picked up the baby, and despite being a first-time mother, held him appropriately and inspected him closely. Animal care staff monitored the twosome around the clock for several days and noted successful nursing within 24 hours. The pair has been inseparable since.
The Memphis Zoo is one of only two institutions that has reintroduced mother and baby less than two weeks after the surgery.
“We had to step in temporarily to hand-rear in order to allow Jahe to recover from her surgery,” said Courtney Janney, Curator of Large Mammals. “Once we were sure she was comfortable and healing well, we reintroduced the baby to his mother and she has completely taken over.”
This infant is the first for mother “Jahe,” and third for father, “Tombak.” Jahe, an 18-year-old female, arrived at the Memphis Zoo in 2010. Her name means “ginger” in the Indonesian language. Tombak, a 33-year-old male, arrived at the Memphis Zoo in 1994. His name is derived from a Javanese word meaning “copper.”
This is a significant birth for the Memphis Zoo, and for the greater Sumatran orangutan population, as only about 200 Sumatran orangutans are currently on exhibit across the country. The species is listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List, the most comprehensive inventory of conservation statuses.
“With just a few thousand of these animals left in wild, this is a momentous occasion,” said Matt Thompson, Director of Animal Programs. “I’m very proud of our animal care team that intervened and saved the lives of both mother and baby. This is truly an event to celebrate!”
Mother and baby are currently resting behind-the-scenes. While the new addition is not yet on exhibit, the public will be able to be a part of his life through a naming contest. The Primate Canyon caretakers have carefully chosen five names for consideration, and the public is encouraged to vote on their favorite name by visiting memphiszoo.org/orangutan starting April 14.Voting will take place between Thursday, April 14 and Thursday, April 21, 2016 on the Memphis Zoo’s website. The final name will be announced Friday, April 22 via the Zoo’s social media pages.
About the Memphis Zoo’s Sumatran Orangutans
The Memphis Zoo currently has four Sumatran orangutans. In addition to the baby, Jahe, and Tombak, the Zoo also has “Chickie,” a 38-year-old female. She is named after former Surgeon General Charles “Chick” Everett Koop, who operated on her shortly after her birth. Orangutans have been housed at the Memphis Zoo since 1960, with the first Sumatran orangutan arrival in 1974.
Jahe arrived at the Memphis Zoo from the Toronto Zoo, where she was born. Her mother, named “Puppe,” still lives at the Toronto Zoo, and was a wild-caught animal. This makes Jahe a genetically valuable animal.Tombak is the father of “Elok” and “Indah,” two previous offspring who were born in 2004. However, they both had to be hand-reared, and were later sent to the Houston Zoo.
About Sumatran Orangutans
The name orangutan means “man of the forest;” they are the largest tree-dwelling animal in the world. Because of their arboreal nature, their arm span can reach 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip. There are two subspecies of orangutans – Sumatran and Bornean. Orangutans have the second longest childhood, first being humans, spending up to eight ears with their mothers and nursing up to 6 years of age.
About the Memphis Zoo
The Memphis Zoo, located in Memphis, Tennessee, is home to more than 3,500 animals representing over 500 different species. Recently named as one of the top zoos in the countryby TripAdvisor® and by USA Today, the Memphis Zoo has completed over $93 million inrenovations and expansion since the early 1990s. The Zoo’s animal inhabitants reside in one-of-a-kind exhibitry, such as Once Upon A Farm, The Commercial Appeal Cat Country, Primate Canyon, Animals of the Night, Northwest Passage, Teton Trek and CHINA - home to giant pandas YaYa and Le Le. The Memphis Zoo was founded in 1906 and resides on 70 acres in the middle of Overton Park. It is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Memphis Zoo, YaYa and Le Le are trademarks of the Memphis Zoo.