July 22--Anyone who doubts the importance of early maternal care need only meet Kecil.
The 6-month-old male orangutan came to Brookfield Zoo last month to bond with Maggie, a 53-year-old orangutan. Maggie may be older than typical mothers, but she turned out to be the perfect candidate to be Kecil's surrogate. Not only did she have a mellow disposition on her resume, but also some substitute mothering experience -- a rare combination.
"She's just very calm, very stable," said Jay Petersen, curator of primates and carnivores for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo. "Animals that don't get reared right can grow up a little more nervous and a little less patient than those who do."
Kecil (pronounced Ka-cheel) had a rocky start. After he was born at the Toledo Zoo in January, his birth mother, Yasmin, showed little interest following a difficult delivery. So after tireless efforts -- which included placement in private quarters -- the veterinary team decided it would be best for the 4-month-old to be placed with a surrogate at another zoo.
The Milwaukee County Zoo stepped in, hoping that an orangutan named MJ would provide the crucial attachment. But a month in, Kecil was not getting the necessary TLC to become a well-adjusted adult, experts said.
"In our early years, we learn how to relate, how to stand up for ourselves, how to get along with others," Petersen said. "It's the same with apes. ... If they don't get that early nurturing, they can suffer complications their entire lives."
Brookfield Zoo offered a home, and Kecil arrived June 20. Maggie's parenting skills may be a bit rusty -- her last surrogacy stint ended in 2002 -- but she still has the touch, said Carol Sodaro, husbandry adviser to the American Zoological Association's Orangutan Species Survival Plan, who was involved in discussions about Kecil's care.
"You can never predict what animals will do, but Maggie is an exceptional female," she said. "I have no doubts the two will continue to bond."
A call for a surrogate orangutan goes out about every three to five years, and the need to move a baby a second time has only presented itself once before, said Sodaro, who has 37 years of experience working with the primates. If all things go according to plan, the public will meet Kecil sometime in early 2015.
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