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

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 recently was revealed to the public. Some wore "I met Tuah" buttons. They lined 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. They were forced to improvise 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. This happens while the mother builds nests and scavenges for food. 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. Meanwhile, Tuah held tight to their chests, developing his muscle strength.

However, 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. She 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. Those included everyday fruit to her favorite grapes and pomegranates to the foods she only gets on special occasions. She loves jello, granola, graham crackers, applesauce and peanuts.

When Acara had mastered being gentle, zookeepers gave her a stuffed animal. The idea was 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. 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. He 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. 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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COMMENTS (92)
  • calebbeast111
    4/15/2015 - 05:11 p.m.

    I like how the zoo was abale to make bottons for Tauh. Its sad how the other mama died acter giving birt. And the zoo keepers seem nice

  • AJ_Slater
    4/15/2015 - 08:29 p.m.

    In a zoo in salt lake city has an orangutan that was just born but the mother just died recently. This causes a whole bunch of problems. Now humans and the orangutan sister are replacing it's mother. I think this is a very concept.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/15/2015 - 09:26 p.m.

    I think that it is cool for the Orangutan sister to help the five-month-old Orangutan to survive without the mother or father (I'm not sure) because the sister orangutan is the only orangutan to help the baby orangutan, because I think that the sister wanted to help the baby Orangutan. Well if the the sister Orangutan is the only one to take care of the baby, I think that the sister is responsible to help the baby.

  • John0724-YYCA
    4/15/2015 - 09:36 p.m.

    It is very sad that the baby orangutan's mother died while giving birth to him and the dad died in cancer but it really is a good thing that his sister is still living so she can protect the baby. It is a good thing that they care for the baby orangutan.

  • Meghans-Pav
    4/16/2015 - 10:01 a.m.

    The little Orangutans are so cute and it is so cool to see how they live. I never realized how smart orangutans are and how quickly they can learn new things. I was surprised how even though the animals were raised by humans but are still completely capable of living how they usually would. Lastly, I found it shocking that Tuah's father Eli was able to predict super bowl winners seven years in a row! These orangutans are so cute and smart, and I love learning about how they learn and their progress as they learn.

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

    I think it is amazing how humans started to act like an orangutan just so baby Tuah can grow up and be like the other orangutans. I can just imagine how tiring it is! You have to stay up with the orangutan all the time and look out for it, and that is a lot of work!! It is also amazing how Acara the orangutan could learn to act like a mother and care for Tuah. It is sad how Tuah has to grow up without his real mother, but he has a lot of other people and Acara looking out for him. I hope Tuah is doing well and that he is happy!

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

    I love this story because it is a a heart warming story. Tuah, a baby orangutan had lost his mother and needed a mother figure. So Bobbi Gordon, a zoo employee, had to step in to help. When Tuah got too big, Acara, his older sister, stepped in to help.

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

    I don't know if I would want to have a orangutan as a pet. I wouldn't want to have them as a pet because they could be unpredictable. He is very cute and I would want to have him as a pet.

  • Annamariea-Pav
    4/16/2015 - 10:03 a.m.

    The orangutan story is co cool! Reading the article, it seemed like I was reading about an actual child, the orangutans sound so smart. It is also cool how Tuah was able to learn about everyday things with his smart sister's help.

  • Anach-Fre
    4/16/2015 - 10:43 a.m.

    Animal keepers were forced to improvise Tuah's care because his mother died. Orangutans need a lot of attention from their ,other when they're little, and Tuah couldn't get that. So the zoo keepers would put on a furry vest for a few hours and let Tuah cling onto them so he could sleep and get through the day. Tuah was very lucky and fortunate to have this wonderful zoo staff to help him grow up. Without them, he probably wouldn't have survived. And his sister, Acara, was taught very well and should now know how to take care of her own children someday. I think it is extraordinary that Acara learned how to take care of her brother as if he was her own child. I know that if my mo passed away and there was no one to take care of my younger brother or sister, I would do it.

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