Second-generation Baby Orangutan Born at Israeli Safari Park

Baby girl’s father, Rahamim, had also been born at the Ramat Gan zoo 11 years ago

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
The infant orangutan is the first to be born at Ramat Gan Safari Park in 11 years.#
The infant orangutan is the first to be born at Ramat Gan Safari Park in 11 years.Credit: Yam Siton/Michal Levy
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

It’s a girl! Congratulations to Sumatran orangutans Tana and Rahamim on the birth of their beautiful baby, which the mother cautiously kept hidden in her loving arms and orange fur, or under blankets, for two weeks after parturition.

Meaning, the infant was born two weeks ago, says Ramat Gan Safari Park, but only now has Tana, 12, gained enough confidence to stop clutching the baby so tight it couldn’t be seen, aside from a curve of ginger-haired cranium. It isn’t that Tana is letting the tiny child lie alone, but she is less insistent on hiding it at all times, explains spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz.

This is the first time in 11 years that the safari park has had the privilege of welcoming a baby orangutan, an extremely endangered great ape indigenous to Southeast Asia. In fact, the last orang birth at the safari was of the baby’s father, Rahamim.

Rahamim had been born to very aged parents, Roha’le and Mushon. His mother passed away when Rahamim was 7, just approaching the age of putative independence.

Like humans, female orangutans in nature only reach sexual maturity at ages 11 to 15, though in captivity orang puberty may arrive as early as age 7. In the male, things are more complicated: they can theoretically breed from a fairly early age (6.5 years in captivity), but transit to adulthood some time from 7 to 10 years of age.

Researchers report that orangs are generally quite solitary apes, but the kids stick with the mother until adolescence. The point is that fearing for Rahamim’s well-being, when he was orphaned from his mother, the zoo imported two lady orangutans named Sato and Tana from a German zoo to help him spiritually and also, hopefully, to procreate.

Tana with her as-yet unnamed baby daughter, at Ramat Gan Safari Park, central Israel.Credit: Yam Siton/Michal Levy

At the time, the zoo thought the ancient Mushon would carry on the dynasty and indeed he did court the two young females while Rahamim succumbed to bashfulness. But Mushon’s advances came to nothing and then he died, aged 50.

Only then did young Rahamim began to approach the females. Slowly. It took him three years to develop a relationship with Tana, which was observed, after which the zookeepers watched her pregnancy closely.

This time, the zoo noticed the birth immediately (sometimes it doesn’t – animals can hide their babies very well). The umbilical cord was still attached and Tana was nursing the baby, to the relief of the staff: this was Tana’s first birth – obviously – and inexperienced mothers can make sometimes fatal mistakes.

But it’s been two weeks now and all is well in the orangutan enclosure, with Tana, Sato and Rahamim all together. No, they didn’t evict Rahamim upon the birth, the zoo confirms – no need.

Tana holding on to her baby orang at Ramat Gan Safari Park. Credit: Yam Siton/Michal Levy

As for the presence of Sato, Horowitz explains that orangs may be solitary in nature, or form small groups; it isn’t unknown for some females to hang together.

All almost hadn’t been well, and not because of inter-orangutan angst but because during the latest flare-up with Hamas in May, a rocket fired from Gaza fell between the enclosures of the macaques, gibbons and orangutans. A black macaque was injured by shrapnel, but was saved by the safari’s animal hospital. The orang enclosure was badly damaged, but has since been repaired and augmented with new venues of orang entertainment and fun, as well as new plants to climb.

“We also hid treats for the orangutans in the new facilities,” Horowitz says, elaborating that said treats may include date syrup, granola, cranberries and grapes, as opposed to their regular diet of humdrum cucumbers, bell peppers and so on.

In the course of the repairs, the zoo reports, Tana climbed a tree and declined to descend. Fearing for her and her fetus, the zoo veterinarians finally resorted to a firefighters’ crane to get her down.

Mother and infant in the orangutan enclosure at Ramat Gan Safari Park.Credit: Yam Siton/Michal Levy

The birth of the baby girl, whose name remains to be determined, is good news for the effort to save the three orangutan species – Sumatran, Bornean and Tapanuli – all of which are critically endangered. The Tapanuli variant used to be widespread, but is especially close to imminent extinction.

One of the apes genetically closest to humans, the very word “orang” means “man of the forest” in the Malay language. All three species are suffering from extreme habitat loss due to degradation of the tropical rain forests in which they live, and the illegal trade in wildlife.

The baby girl orang just born in Israel will be part of an international breeding program, in which zoos around the world exchange rare animals for breeding purposes.

So will the baby born to Rihanna the rhino in June, and now there we have a strange example of a secret birth. One would think one would notice a new baby rhinoceros but the Safari didn't because the mother secreted the giant infant in a grove frequented mostly by waterbucks.

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