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'Sarah' is expecting and 'Reese' is to be a big sister.

Pregnant Orangutan at the ABQ BioPark Zoo

Sarah and a young Reese in February 2009. Photo courtesy of ABQ BioPark.

January 24, 2013

Update: The baby was born April 26 >>

Sarah the orangutan, mother of 4-year-old female Reese, surprised BioPark zookeepers by showing signs of pregnancy a few months ago. With results from a pregnancy test and subsequent ultrasounds, the animal care team is happy to announce a baby orangutan is expected sometime in the next three months.

Average gestation for orangutans is eight months. Sarah had been on birth control, and her surprise pregnancy makes calculating a precise due date impossible. Recent ultrasounds suggest Sarah is around five months pregnant; the baby is moving its limbs and has a five centimeter abdomen.

"We are cautiously optimistic that Reese will be a big sister soon," said Debbie Wiese, Primate Supervisor. "We're excited and hoping for the best, but unforeseen complications are always possible. Last time, Sarah had twins, a very rare occurrence for orangutans. Reese was born healthy, but the other baby died shortly after birth. This time, the ultrasound shows a single baby, and we're keeping an extra close eye on Sarah."

Wiese and the primate keepers work with all the apes on husbandry behaviors and have established an especially strong bond with Sarah. As a result of training and trust, the orangutan is very cooperative during ultrasounds. She presents her belly at a space in the enclosure mesh, so Wiese can rub on warm water (Sarah doesn't like the cold ultrasound gel) and run the probe across her lower abdomen, while the veterinarians watch the output monitor. In return for her excellent participation, Sarah receives bananas, apples, grapes, oranges and other treats.

In the wild, where food is not plentiful, orangutans typically give birth every 6-8 years. Babies are born at 3 ½ pounds and will sometimes be carried and breast-fed until they are five years old. Primatologists believe mother and baby orangutans have strong bonds because there is so much to learn during early years: where to find food, what to eat, how to use tools and how to build sleeping nests.

Four-year-old Reese has been gaining independence as she learns from her mother and the other female orangutans, Memala and Rubi. Zookeepers are hopeful that she will also be able to learn about raising a young orangutan by watching her mother's example with her new sibling.

For weekly updates on Sarah's pregnancy, please follow the BioPark on Facebook or Twitter, or visit our orangutan web page.

For more information, email [email protected] or dial 311 locally (505-768-2000).

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