Baby orangutan gets help from his sister
Baby orangutan gets help from his sister Tuah, the five month-old Bornean orangutan looks on in the Great Ape Building at Utah's Hogle Zoo (AP photos)
Baby orangutan gets help from his sister
Lexile: 1130L

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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 was recently revealed to the public, with visitors some of whom wore "I met Tuah" buttons lining up around the ape building to catch their first glimpse.

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. A baby orangutan instinctively clings 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 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."

The first step was to teach Acara to be gentle with the infant.

"She was young and spunky, so that was our biggest worry, that she wouldn't know what was too rough," said Gordon.

They plied Acara with rewards. The more complicated the task, the higher-value the treat: from the everyday fruit to her favorite grapes and pomegranates to the foods she only gets on special occasions, like jello, granola, graham crackers, applesauce and peanuts.

When Acara had mastered being gentle, zookeepers gave her a stuffed animal to teach her how to pick the baby up, hold it and flip it over. The two were introduced when Tuah was 3 months old, and for the last month, they have lived together full time, Gordon said.

Acara has adjusted to child-rearing and will retrieve Tuah for animal keepers and carry him between exhibits. She also helps Tuah navigate the ropes and stops him from tripping on toys.

At his first public session, Tuah spent a lot of time holding onto the ropes and occasionally wandered up to the glass, giving visitors outside the enclosure an up close glance.

He stayed awake and fought off his nap until about 3:30.

Tuah's father was Eli, an orangutan who became famous for correctly predicting the Super Bowl winner seven years in a row. Eli died of cancer in September, but officials hope Tuah inherited his ability.

"Tuah's going to try it next year," Gordon said.

Critical thinking challenge: Why were animal keepers forced to improvise Tuah's care?

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  • Enyam-Pav
    4/16/2015 - 10:02 a.m.

    Wow, this blows my mind! I cant believe that some animals are so smarty that a 10 year and can be taught to raise a baby! Also, you have to give the handlers credit because they tough the older orangutan how to be a mother when she was so young! this is truly amazing.

    • marlieholmes13
      4/16/2015 - 01:16 p.m.

      I think this story is amazing because the zoo trainers had to work day and night for this infant because his mother died a few weeks after giving birth. Baby orangutans have to hang from their mother in order to sleep. I also found it impressive for his 10 year old sister to step into mom's place.It wasn't all that simple they had to train her and when she did a good job they would award her with treats. Orangutans have been named as the world's most intelligent animals according to studies placing them above chimpanzees and gorillas.

      • TehyaA-Ste
        4/22/2015 - 04:29 p.m.

        That is pretty amazing that orangutans are so intelligent that they can step into place and be a mother to a abandoned infant. I also congratulate the zoo keepers for caring for the baby while his sister was in training to care for him.

      • TehyaA-Ste
        4/22/2015 - 04:29 p.m.

        That is pretty amazing that orangutans are so intelligent that they can step into place and be a mother to a abandoned infant. I also congratulate the zoo keepers for caring for the baby while his sister was in training to care for him.

  • faithd-Che
    4/16/2015 - 11:45 a.m.

    Why were animal keepers forced to improvise Tuah's care?

    They were forced to improvise because Tuahs mother dies a few weeks after she gave birth to him.

  • tiffanylee-Goo
    4/16/2015 - 11:58 a.m.

    Animal keepers were forced to improvise Tuah's care because his mother and father died. The text states that orangutans spend most of their life in trees so baby orangutans cling to their mothers fur while she builds nests and searches for food. The text also states that since Tuah's mother died he couldn't be put in a crib like a human baby so the zoo keepers spent their time making a special vest that stimulates an orangutan's fur that Tuah could cling on to while they climbed through piles of hay. Tuah couldn't cling to humans forever so they trained his sister Acara on maternal duties. The evidence from the text clarifies why they had to improvise Tuah's care.

  • Kaitlynpo-Fre
    4/16/2015 - 12:53 p.m.

    I think it's cool that the zookeepers kept trying, even when they didn't know what to do. they could have just given the orangutan to his sister and left them to thrive on their own, but they actually did train her so that she would be able to care for him better. Even though it won't ever get its mother back, it's great that the zoo gave him somebody to care for him.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    4/16/2015 - 01:13 p.m.

    I think that we still have much to learn about the capabilities and skills of these animals. Stories like this never cease to amaze me, and i think we have yet to hear many more of them.

  • AutumnN14
    4/16/2015 - 05:09 p.m.

    Storied like these never cease to amaze me. This was absolutely stunning to find out that such animals could be so intelligent. I will never forget the beauties that this world has brung, and what it will continue to bring. There are so many fascinating stories like these, but this one happens to be my new favorite!

  • zG2000mimi
    4/17/2015 - 08:49 a.m.

    the qnimql keepers were forced to improvise about tuah's care because his mother died after tuah was born (he was 5 months old, 14-inch, 11-pound. and he was starting to crawl) and in the text it says that arangatangs always tag on to their mothers while thye mothers build thier houses to sleep

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