Baby Orangutan in Houston Cared for by 50 Surrogate Human Moms

Bright-eyed baby gets stuffed doll, drinks infant formula from bottle.

ByBradley Blackburn
April 06, 2011, 6:55 PM

April 6, 2011— -- A baby orangutan in Houston's zoo has been rejected by her mother, but 50 surrogate human moms have stepped in to fill the void.

The bright-eyed baby, who hasn't yet been given a name, was born to an orangutan named Kelly a bit more than a month ago, but the mother stopped feeding and caring for the baby shortly thereafter.

Zoo staffers stepped in to give the baby round-the-clock care.

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Video released by the zoo shows a team of experienced caregivers feeding the baby, snuggling her in blankets and providing training in vital development skills such as clinging.

In the wild, a baby orangutan would spend its first year of life clinging to its mother. In place of a mom, the Houston baby hangs on to a surrogate orangutan doll with bright orange fur.

"We are finding that, on the little doll, she is clinging really well, and it is super important that she learn how to cling," said Lynn Killam, supervisor of primates at the Houston Zoo, in a video released by the zoo. "A mom orangutan wouldn't necessarily hold her baby. The baby would be clinging to her."

The orangutan baby now is drinking bottled infant formula -- the same used for human babies -- and in a month's time she has already gained two pounds.

Zoo Officials Hope Baby Eventually Will Get an Orangutan Mother

Zoo officials say that the baby is healthy, but they're not ready to show her to the public.

Now, they're focused on introducing her to other orangutans, hoping that one of the females might eventually take her on, possibly even the baby's original mother.

"We're doing a lot of visual introductions with all of the orangutans," said Killam. "We're hoping that in the next few months, we will get her back in with an orangutan."

Another female orangutan at the zoo has performed as a surrogate mom before, raising three babies.

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