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Brookfield Zoo orangutan serves as surrogate mother once more

Kecil 6-month-old Bornean orangutan Brookfield Zoo. Kecil is currently off exhibit bonding with Maggie 53 who is his surrogate mom.

Kecil, a 6-month-old Bornean orangutan at Brookfield Zoo. Kecil is currently off exhibit bonding with Maggie, 53, who is his surrogate mom. It will be several months before Kecil and Maggie are on exhibit in the zoo’s Tropic World: Asia exhibit. Until then, the Chicago Zoological Society will be setting up a keeper journal at where the public can get periodic updates, including photos and video of the two. | Jim Schulz/Chicago Zoological Society

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Updated: August 23, 2014 6:14AM

A Brookfield Zoo orangutan has become a surrogate mother once again.

Maggie, a 53-year-old Bornean orangutan, is now caring for Kecil, a 6-month-old orangutan.

Kecil — pronounced “ka-CHEEL” — was born in January at the Toledo Zoo and needed a surrogate after his birth mom, Yasmin, did not want to care for him.

Although Toledo zookeepers are not entirely sure why Yasmin neglected him — she’d raised babies before — it might have something to do with a difficult delivery.

Randi Meyerson, assistant director of animal programs at Toledo Zoo, said after delivery, Yasmin was more interested in hanging out with the other orangutans than parenting.

Although not very common, situations like this do happen, according to curators.

Fortunately, Maggie has taken a liking to the youngster.

Kecil had been taken to the Milwaukee County Zoo in May to be introduced to another surrogate, M.J. It didn’t work out.

Despite the zoo’s efforts, the two did not bond as well as zoo officials would have liked.

“When it doesn’t work and you’ve given it a good shot for a while, you want to make a change because the kids are in a very critical stage,” said Jay Petersen, curator of carnivores and primates at Brookfield Zoo.

Maggie has been a surrogate mother before and her calm, patient nature made her the top choice. She was introduced to Kecil on June 20 and the two have been getting along, Petersen said. Maggie often carries Kecil to the highest shelves in the room and lets him nibble on her food.

“She’s an experienced mom; she’s sort of reared a kid before and can jump into that old role and has a desire to,” he said. “When she raised a foster child in the ’90s, she was sympathetically lactating.”

According to Petersen, bonding with his own species is key to Kecil’s development, no matter how good a human caregiver may be.

“We’ve seen many situations where [baby primates] are reared by well-meaning humans and they grow up identifying with humans and not becoming socialized in a way that allows them to interact comfortably and normally with their own species,” Petersen said.

Zookeepers hope this is Kecil’s last move and that he and Maggie continue to bond. To give them enough time, they will not be on exhibit for a few months.

“We’re really happy that Maggie is acting appropriately and being maternal toward him,” Meyerson said.

During this time, the Chicago Zoological Society is tracking their progress online at Meanwhile, Kecil will continue trying to get the hang of solid food.


Twitter: @mlespana

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