Greenville Zoo prepares for first orangutan birth in 12 years

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Lana, the Greenville Zoo's female Sumatran orangutan. Photo provided.

The Greenville Zoo is getting ready for a new arrival.

Lana, the zoo’s female Sumatran orangutan, is due to give birth in a few weeks, according to a news release. It will be the first orangutan birth at the zoo in 12 years.

The last orangutan born at the zoo was Bob, a male Bornean orangutan born to parents Mia and Chelsea in 2006, according to Greenville Zoo administrator Jeff Bullock. All three orangutans have since been transferred to other zoos.

Lana is expected to give birth sometime between July 18 and Aug. 11, with a due date of July 30, Bullock said.

“There are so many moving parts that have gone into this new arrival,” he said.

Bullock added that Lana had never been given an opportunity to reproduce before arriving at the Greenville Zoo. The 33-year-old orangutan was born at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans in 1985 and transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo in 1990.

Lana was sent to Greenville two years ago on a breeding loan from Cincinnati, according to Bullock. The Species Survival Program, a program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that oversees breeding in accredited facilities, recommended her as a mate for Kumar, Greenville’s male orangutan.

It wasn’t an easy courtship, however.

“Introducing animals can always be tricky,” Bullock said. “What I think made this situation trickier was the age difference. Kumar is just more active than she is.”

Kumar was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas in 2005. Since arriving at the Greenville Zoo in 2016, the 13-year-old orangutan has broken out of his enclosure three times. His most recent escape took place in January, when the zoo was closed for annual maintenance.

Despite their differences in personality and age, Lana and Kumar eventually “learned to tolerate one another and were able to set their personal boundaries,” the release said.

In May 2017, the keepers at the Greenville Zoo began to notice the physical characteristics of pregnancy becoming apparent in Lana. A human pregnancy test confirmed she was, indeed, expecting. Lana, however, suffered a miscarriage three months later.

Bullock said the zoo’s animal care staff and veterinary team will be monitoring Lana closely and taking every precaution to help ensure her health and prepare for any complications that she might experience throughout the rest of her pregnancy.

The zoo, for instance, has developed a 27-page management plan to prepare for the birth and consulted with local medical professionals, including an obstetrician and gynecologist, pediatrician, and neonatologist, for assistance throughout the pregnancy and birth, since the processes are similar to those of humans.

Dr. Nikolay Kapustin, deputy administrator and veterinarian at the Greenville Zoo, said the zoo’s staff and volunteers will begin monitoring Lana around the clock on July 18 via remote cameras, but won’t intervene with the birth unless there is an urgent issue.

“The goal is a natural delivery,” Kapustin said, “but we’re set up to accommodate anything.”

In preparation for the birth, the zoo’s keepers have started training Lana to hold and nurse her newborn by using a stuffed-animal orangutan. They’re also working with the zoo’s veterinary team to conduct regular ultrasounds and bloodwork.

Lana’s last day on exhibit was Sunday, July 8, after which she was permanently separated from Kumar and put into a den that’s been “baby-proofed” with padded floors and cleared of shelving and climbing materials, according to Bullock.

If Lana rejects her baby or is unable to provide proper maternal care, the zoo said it will explore options such as partial hand-rearing or identifying a surrogate mother orangutan at another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Bullock said the zoo will post pictures of the newborn orangutan on social media and likely hold a naming contest shortly after the birth. Visitors can expect to see the family together on exhibit this fall or next spring, depending on the weather.

For more information, visit greenvillezoo.com.

Did you know? 

Sumatran orangutans are considered one of the world’s 25 most-endangered primates and listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The population is estimated to be under 15,000 in the wild.

Rampant logging and the rapid expansion of palm-oil plantations have been blamed for destroying their jungle habitat throughout Indonesia, according to Kapustin. Plantation workers and villagers also attack adult orangutans that feed on their crops, while poachers capture babies to sell as exotic pets.

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