Or­phaned baby orang­utan ready for his de­but


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, t he 35.6-cen­time­ter, 5-kilo­gram Tuah is start­ing to crawl. Tuah will be re­vealed Satur­day at a baby shower.


is one of sev­eral

pri- mate han­dlers who pro­vided round-the-clock care for the in­fant, im­pro­vis­ing 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 while she builds nests and scav­enges for food. So 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, while Tuah held tight to their chests, de­vel­op­ing his mus­cle strength.

But 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 that 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: from the ev­ery­day fruit to her fa­vorite grapes and pomegranates to the foods she only gets on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, like jello, gra­nola, gra­ham crack­ers, ap­ple­sauce and peanuts.

When Acara had mas­tered be­ing gen­tle, zookeep­ers gave her a stuffed an­i­mal 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, and for the last month, they have lived to­gether full time, Gor­don said.

Acara has ad­justed to chil­drea­r­ing 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.

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, but of­fi­cials hope Tuah in­her­ited his abil­ity.

“Tuah’s go­ing to year,” Gor­don said.





Tuah, the 5-month-old Bornean orang­utan looks on in the Great Ape Build­ing at Utah’s Hogle Zoo on Fri­day, April 10.

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