Critically Endangered Orangutan Thriving at the San Diego Zoo

| September 5, 2022 | 0 Comments

Wildlife care team members at the San Diego Zoo recently celebrated two of the Zoo’s prominent primate residents: Kaja, a critically endangered Sumatran orangutan infant; and his mother, Indah. Following major health complications that left Indah hospitalized after giving birth, wildlife care specialists jumped in to care for Kaja and help nurture him during the critical early weeks of his life.  Due to quick intervention, both mother and infant are now doing well, and have since been reunited.

Kaja, now seven months old, was born Jan. 4 to 35-year-old Indah. He was named for an island in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, where rehabilitated orangutans are cared for prior to their reintroduction to native habitats. This youngster is the first orangutan born at the Zoo since 2014, when Indah gave birth to her daughter Aisha.

Almost immediately after giving birth, Indah started experiencing severe complications and was placed under the care of the Zoo’s wildlife health team. The team reached out to community-based experts, including neonatal anesthesiologists and OB-GYN specialists, and together they determined the older orangutan was experiencing excessive bleeding and had severe anemia. Indah’s treatment required several weeks of medication; but eventually, she made a full recovery, and the wildlife team began the work of reconnecting mom and baby.

“It was a slow process that required a lot of patience and attentiveness, but the reward was great in the end,” said Dean Gibson, curator of primates at the San Diego Zoo. “After returning from the hospital, it took weeks for Indah to start interacting with Kaja. But once they began spending time together, their bond grew rapidly—and now, they’re nearly inseparable. It warms my heart to see Indah back in the role of mom, because she does it so well.”

Wildlife care specialists have also introduced Kaja to the rest of the orangutan group and have started to familiarize him with the two siamangs that share the habitat. Zoo guests can visit the orangutans throughout the day in the Lost Forest. On days when Kaja and Indah choose to explore the habitat, guests may get a glimpse of the duo—usually early in the morning.

Sumatran and Bornean orangutans are listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. The decline in their population is due to illegal wildlife trafficking and habitat loss from rampant deforestation, which forces them into closer contact with people.

“Orangutans are a well-known species, so it may surprise many to hear that there is a possibility they could all be gone in the near future,” said Misha Body, director of wildlife care at the San Diego Zoo. “Wildlife births like Kaja’s are always exciting events, but seeing a new animal come into the world takes on a weightier meaning, as each new life signifies hope. And hope is a very precious thing in the realm of saving wildlife, because it can help sustain us as we continue our vital work.”

Kaja and Indah shared a tight bond as mom and son.

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