Zoo to keep baby orangutan under wraps for now

Update: It's a girl!


The first orangutan born at the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center is more than just another adorable addition to the Indianapolis Zoo’s menagerie or name-the-latest-zoo-baby marketing opportunity.

The yet-unnamed ape—whose sex has yet to be determined due to being closely held by its mother—was born at 5:07 p.m. on Wednesday. The baby is expected to be on view to the public whenever its mother, Sirih, appears comfortable with that idea, zoo officials said Thursday.

baby orangutan Zoo officials don't yet know the sex of the baby, since its mother, Sirih, has kept it near since birth. (Photo courtesy Indianapolis Zoo)

“We want to provide outstanding care. We want to provide inspirational visits for our guests. But the third thing that is really our duty and obligation is to advance conservation. This baby really allows us to do that,” Executive Vice President and Zoo Director Rob Shumaker told IBJ on Thursday.

Such births are rare among the approximately 200 orangutans in accredited U.S. zoos. In some years, no births occur. In a good year, the number is still only counted in single digits.

Shumaker hopes that greater exposure to the range of orangutan behavior for zoo visitors translates to a stronger desire to support conservation in Borneo and Sumatra, where they have become endangered.

“You can’t show maternal behavior unless there’s a baby,” Shumaker said. “Anyone who sees Sirih and her baby will see this wonderful, remarkable, tender affection that a mom orangutan provides for her baby. It’s so sincere and so compelling.”

Zoo officials could not immediately share plans on Thursday for incorporating the baby in marketing or fundraising campaigns.

Countering a popular misconception about the importance of breeding in captivity, Shumaker said that releasing such zoo-born apes into the wild would not be “realistic or appropriate.”

The baby is also important to the socialization and education of its nine fellow residents of the Skjodt Center, which opened in 2014 and was credited for helping the zoo set record attendance of 1.3 million people that year.

“This really adds to the richness of their social environment,” Shumaker said, noting that most of the other zoo apes have never been in the company of an infant.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan recommended Sirih and her mate, Basan, as a breeding pair in an effort to ensure a sustainable and genetically diverse population.

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