NEW ORLEANS (press release) – On Friday, Dec. 24, Audubon Zoo’s critically endangered Sumatran orangutan pregnant with twins, Menari, gave birth to a healthy male infant. Unfortunately, the second infant was deceased prior to birth. Twinning is extremely rare in orangutans – there is only about a 1% chance of this happening, and twin births are inherently high risk.
The first infant was examined by neonatologists and determined to appear healthy. After the first twin was born without any problems, Menari rested for a couple of hours, mothering her infant appropriately. She then had some periods of active labor and rest, but no apparent progression.
Due to concerns of dystocia, a serious problem in the birthing process, Audubon veterinary staff decided to intervene and assist her. A team of on-call medical professionals, including local OBGYN and neonatology specialists were brought in for intervention. After Menari was anesthetized, the team determined by ultrasound that the second infant was badly positioned and sadly deceased. It was delivered without the need for a Ceasarean section.
“This is a bittersweet time for our team, but, given the very serious complications with the second infant, we are extremely happy that Menari and the surviving infant are together and doing well,” said Audubon’s Senior Veterinarian Bob MacLean. “There are many risks associated with pregnancy, especially with first-time mothers, but our veterinary team and OBGYN specialists are very pleased with Menari’s recovery and her natural mothering instincts thus far. We cannot thank our Orangutan Species Survival Plan advisors and institutional colleagues enough for their guidance and expertise.”
Menari and the surviving infant are currently behind-the-scenes to give them time to bond and to allow the Zoo’s veterinary and primate team to care for them. Staff are monitoring the infant’s health closely, and he is already nursing very well.
Though Menari is a first-time mother, she was able to observe her mother, Feliz, giving birth and raising her half-sister Bulan in 2019 at Audubon Zoo. Most recently, Menari witnessed Reese give birth to Madu in February 2021. Menari has a special bond with half-sister Bulan, and guests can often spot them eating, sleeping, or foraging together in their habitat. This recent experience with infants has helped to prepare Menari for motherhood.
The infant’s father, Jambi, has sired Feliz’s infant, Bulan, in 2019 and Reese’s infant, Madu, in February 2021 since joining Audubon Zoo’s orangutan group from Hannover Zoo in Germany in 2018. Jambi’s move from Germany to the U.S. and into the Sumatran orangutan population within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has added vital genetic diversity of the species. Menari, born at Audubon Zoo in 2009, was hand-raised.
Maintaining a genetically diverse population in human care is important because Sumatran orangutans have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as “critically endangered” and therefore threatened with extinction in our lifetime—there are fewer than 14,000 living in the wild and their numbers are declining, mainly because of human-wildlife conflict due to the spread of palm oil plantations into their forest habitat.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the conservation of this critically endangered species, and I am incredibly proud of our dedicated veterinarians and animal care team,” said Audubon Nature Institute President and CEO Ron Forman. “The orangutan group at the Zoo serves as ambassadors for their species, teaching guests about the plight of Sumatran orangutans in the wild due to human-wildlife conflict.”
Audubon is committed to helping create experiences that spark action and empower visitors to impact nature and wildlife for the better. Stay tuned to Audubon Zoo’s social media channels for updates on the orangutan infant in the coming weeks.