Orphaned baby orangutan ready for his public debut

Kelly Catalfamo
Associated Press

Salt Lake City — Fleece jackets, piles of hay, a fuzzy stuffed animal sloth and a lot of fruit were on Bobbi Gordon’s shopping list when she became a surrogate mother to a big-eyed, spikey-haired little boy.

A handful of animal keepers at Salt Lake City’s Hogle Zoo found themselves with a tiny red-headed charge when Eve, a Bornean orangutan, died a few weeks after giving birth.

Now 5 months old, the 14-inch, 11-pound Tuah is starting to crawl. Tuah will be shown to the public Saturday at a baby shower. Tuah has an older sister, Acara.

Gordon is one of several primate handlers who provided round-the-clock care for the infant, improvising along the way.

“We lived like an orangutan,” Gordon said. “It was exhausting.”

Orangutans spend most of their time in trees. An infant’s instinct is to cling to his mother’s fur while she builds nests and scavenges for food. So Tuah couldn’t be swaddled and put in a crib like a human baby; he needed to constantly hang onto someone, even while sleeping.

A zoo employee used specialized sewing machines and old fleece jackets to make a vest with strips that simulate an orangutan’s fur. The animal keepers took turns wearing the vest and crawling in hay, while Tuah held tight to their chests, developing his muscle strength.

But Tuah can’t cling to humans forever. That’s where his sister, Acara, comes in.

After Tuah’s birth, zookeepers began training Acara on maternal duties. Acara will turn 10 next month and is an eager-to-please orangutan that enjoys learning, Gordon said.

“Gorillas are a whole other different story, but orangutans are very easy,” said Gordon with a laugh. She called the species “insanely intelligent.”