Baby orangutan born at Vilas zoo

Madison’s zoo family just got a little bigger.

A healthy female Bornean orangutan was born two weeks ago at Henry vilas Zoo to first-time parents Kawan and Datu.

The baby was named Keju, which is Malay for “cheese,” according to Dane County officials.

Keju is important to the national effort to maintain a population of the endangered species through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Orangutan Species Survival Plan. Orangutans are found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, and are the only great ape found in Asia. Bornean orangutans are endangered and Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered with less than 6,000 individuals left in Sumatra, Henry Vilas Zoo said.

“We are excited to have Keju as part of our zoo family,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a news release. “No matter where she goes in life, her name is a reminder that she is a true Wisconsinite. We take great pride in the work we do to protect endangered species.”

As any parent can understand, there is a steep learning curve for your first child. Despite the intensive maternal training zoo staff conducted with Kawan to prepare her for motherhood (including participating in ultrasounds, accepting injections and retrieving and trading objects with her keepers) the birth of the baby has been a confusing time for her, zoo officials said. While Kawan initially showed good maternal instincts such as picking up and cleaning off the infant after birth, she unfortunately did not continue fulltime care of Keju, which can sometimes be the case in both the wild and captivity, so zoo staff stepped in to help care for her.

Staff is continuing Kawan’s maternal training and keeping her interactions with the infant positive with the goal of reuniting mother and infant as soon as possible. Unlike human babies, orangutan babies cannot be placed in a bassinet or bouncy seat. They spend the first year of life exclusively on their mother. Keju is receiving round-the-clock care from zoo caregivers.

Infant orangutans spend their first year of life clinging onto their mother and have the second-longest infant dependency behind humans. To emulate the mother orangutan, zoo caregivers wear a special vest with fleece strips for the infant to hold onto. Caregivers make sure to model appropriate behaviors of mother orangutans like grooming, moving around and changing position.

The zoo continues to work closely with the Orangutan SSP, the top orangutan husbandry experts in North America, on working toward reuniting mom and infant and, eventually, dad, Datu.

Zoo officials said visitors may not see any orangutans on exhibit during the times that zoo staff is training with them behind the scenes.

The timing for getting the family back together is driven by the behavior and health of all members of the family. Keju will be viewable by the public at a later date. The zoo will post updates on its Facebook page.