Critically Endangered Orangutan Born at UK Zoo

Mom has been shy about showing off her baby.

Leia cradles her baby at the Chester Zoo.

 Chester Zoo

A baby Bornean orangutan is "bright and alert" and spending time with its protective mother Leia at the Chester Zoo in the U.K.

“Leia is super shy and enjoys spending lots of time alone with her baby. It’s her first youngster in 10 years, so she’s savoring every moment with her precious new arrival," Chris Yarwood, a primate keeper at the zoo, tells Treehugger.

"As she’s keeping the baby nestled in close to her, we’ve not yet been able to clearly determine the gender of the little one yet, but the baby has definitely developed well over the last couple of months – looking inquisitively around at their new surroundings and suckling well from mum.

Yarwood said keepers were surprised when they arrived one morning in June and saw the new arrival. Leia had a negative pregnancy test just a few months earlier. Orangutans are usually pregnant for 259 days (8 1/2 months). 

"This is Leia’s second baby, and even through it’s been some time since her first, she’s slipped straight back into motherhood so naturally," Yarwood says. "She’s a really gentle, caring mum and it’s wonderful to see.”

orangutan baby at Chester Zoo
Zoo keepers don't know the baby's gender yet.  Chester Zoo

Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) are critically endangered and their population numbers are decreasing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They are particularly threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting.

The Chester Zoo is one of the few facilities in Europe that is home to both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans. Sumatran orangutans are also critically endangered with their numbers decreasing according to the IUCN Red List.

Specifically, palm oil plantations have replaced much of the forests where both species live. According to the Orangutan Foundation International, the massive expansion of palm oil plantations in Borneo and Sumatra is the main threat to the species' survival in the wild.

"These are critically endangered animals and, importantly, we’ve seen babies from both sub-species born in recent times," Yarwood says "It just goes to show that, despite all of the uncertainty in the world right now, life is carrying on as normal for the orangutans, which is really uplifting to see.”

Making Sustainable Choices

Mother orangutan and baby at Chester Zoo
Leia has been shy about showing off her baby.  Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo has partnered with the conservation group HUTAN in Borneo to help protect wild orangutans. Conservationists are working in forests of Lower Kinabatangan and across Sabah to better understand how orangutans are adapting to the increasing number of palm oil plantations and the new environments they've made. Zoo experts have helped create "orangutan bridges," designed to connect pockets of fragmented forest to enable orangutans to safety travel between those isolated areas.

“There’s still a huge need to tackle the excessive deforestation in Borneo and show people everywhere that they can make a difference to the long-term survival of orangutans," Dr.Nick Davis, the zoo’s deputy curator of mammals, said in a statement.

"We really hope that Leia’s new baby helps to further highlight how simple everyday choices, like choosing products which contain only sustainably sourced palm oil, can have a massive impact on the future of these remarkable animals.”

[For more on orangutan-safe shopping, see: 25 Sneaky Names for Palm Oil]