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Published: Tuesday, 5/16/2006

Newborn orangutan doing well at the zoo

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kutai, a 14-year-old orangutan at the Toledo Zoo, nurses her baby, which was born Saturday. Kutai, a 14-year-old orangutan at the Toledo Zoo, nurses her baby, which was born Saturday.
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In keeping with the weekend's Mother's Day spirit, a 14-year-old orangutan presented the Toledo Zoo staff with a new baby orangutan Saturday, then proved she knew what you have to do to get flowers and candy.

Keepers found Kutai cleaning her baby and holding it when they arrived at work Saturday.

"The baby looks good and bright,'' said mammal curator Randi Meyerson. "We think it's female.'' But confirmation of the baby's sex won't be possible until mom allows inspection. In the meantime, keepers don't want to do anything to interfere with bonding.

"We've seen her nursing the baby, but we haven't seen her nursing a lot. We're trying to give her enough time to bond,'' Ms. Meyerson said. Mother and child are not on exhibit so that Kutai isn't distracted from her new maternal responsibility.

"I was in Saturday afternoon to see her, and it's clear Momma is tired,'' said zoo Executive Director Anne Baker. "She was being just a really good mom. That's obviously a relief."

Although Kutai looks like a champion mother now, it was a different story two years ago when she gave birth to Bajik - the first orangutan born at the Toledo Zoo in 14 years. Keepers found the newborn male sitting in the corner by himself when they arrived at work that day.

The infant was removed from the enclosure and hand-raised for eight months. An attempt to reunite mother and son failed.

"She kept trying to trade him for treats,'' Ms. Meyerson said. So Bajik was put in with MJ in hopes the 25-year-old female would treat him as a companion. Instead, MJ took over the mother role, bringing him to keepers regularly for his bottle.

Father to both Bajik and the new baby is 16-year-old Boomer. Unlike Kutai, he took his parental responsibilities seriously right from the start. He is housed with his son.

"He adores his son,'' Ms. Meyerson said. "He showed more paternal care than Kutai showed maternal.''

Because of Kutai's previous bonding problems, zoo officials remain cautious.

"It's a very positive event, but we're still not out of the woods,'' Ms. Baker said. "Thus far, she's doing really well, and the baby, of course, is really adorable.''



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