We are thrilled to announce the newest addition to our Zoo family; a critically endangered Bornean Orangutan! Chelsea’s baby arrived early in the morning on Saturday, June 11th. Once the baby arrived, Chelsea immediately held it against her body, cleaned it, and she has been displaying all the maternal behaviors we want to see at this stage. Infant orangutans are very small, usually only weighing about 3 pounds at birth, and are completely dependent on their mother for the first few years of their life. Chelsea has been doing such a good job of taking care of her baby, we don’t even know the baby’s sex yet! Both Chelsea and the baby are doing well and sharing private bonding time together, behind the scenes in our Primate building. We expect them to be visible to the public sometime in late June.
This is Chelsea’s second offspring. Her first baby, a male named Bob, was born in 2006 and now lives at the Oregon Zoo. Bob sired a healthy baby girl in April, making Chelsea a “grandma” too. Orangutans have the slowest reproductive rate of all mammals. Females typically give birth every five to eight years, usually only having one offspring at a time. Orangutan babies have a lot to learn about life in the forest and have one of the longest “childhoods” in the animal world. They stay with their mothers for 7-8 years before becoming independent.
Orangutans are one of the five types of great ape, along with chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and humans. Orangutans are the least-studied and most unique, of the great apes.
Just like the arrival of any new baby, we have a list of items that can help us care for Chelsea and her baby. We always welcome donations and have set up a wish list of items that will help us provide a safe and happy space for all of our orangutans. Wish list items include everything from Pedialyte to teething toys.
How we’re helping.
Almost half of the wild Bornean Orangutan population lives in forest areas earmarked for conversion to agriculture uses. With the current scale of habitat exploitation, only a small percentage of current habitat will remain undisturbed by 2030. Henry Vilas Zoo Executive Director Ronda Schwetz serves as the Co-Chair of the Associations of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Orangutan Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program and is a steering committee member of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan. To date, Orangutan SAFE has 16 partners in other AZA zoos and together have donated over $135,000 to orangutan conservation efforts in both Borneo and Sumatra since 2020.
It’s a tricky word!
It’s “Orangutan” not “orang”!
The use of the word “orang” in place of “orangutan” has become so widespread that it even shows up in some dictionaries as an alternative but not only is it linguistically wrong, it’s culturally insensitive and runs in defiance of Islamic beliefs common throughout most of the area where orangutans live.
Orangutan does translate as “person of the forest,” with orang meaning “person” and (h)utan meaning “forest.” But the word orang by itself is also a classifier in the native language. Chopping the word orangutan in half does not result in two halves that necessarily mean what they meant when they were together in one-word harmony.
It’s not “orangutang” either!
There is no “g” at the end of the word. Orangutan is one of the most mispronounced words we hear at the Zoo. People often say “Oh-rang-oo-tang.” It is so common that even some of our own staff occasionally slip up and add a “g” to the end of the word!