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July 11, 2017

Newborn orangutan dies overnight at Philadelphia Zoo

The veterinary staff believes the baby primate may have had a congenital heart defect; further testing will be done

Staff and volunteers at the Philadelphia Zoo are mourning the death overnight of a newborn Sumatran orangutan, just two days after the primate's 25-year-old mother gave birth.

Zoo officials said the infant was born Sunday afternoon to Tua, and experienced mother, and 22-year-old father, Sugi, who live with their 8-year-old daughter, Batu, in the PECO Primate Reserve.

The baby orangutan was delivered without any need for intervention from veterinary professionals. For the first afternoon and evening of its life, zoo officials said the infant appeared to display normal behavior and no immediate signs of medical danger. The cause of the orangutan's death remains under review.

“In an initial postmortem examination we identified severe congestion in the newborn’s lungs and a possible congenital heart defect,” said Dr. Keith Hinshaw, Philadelphia Zoo’s director of animal health. “We will likely be able to confirm the exact cause of death after the full necropsy results are available, which will take approximately four to six weeks."

The infant, who belongs to an endangered species, would have added to the population of approximately 85 Sumatran orangutans living in U.S. zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Fewer than 15,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the world as the expansion of palm oil plantations continue to deplete their natural habitats.

“Zoo staff and volunteers are saddened by this unexpected loss. With Tua’s parenting skills and the apparently successful delivery, we were optimistic about this birth,” said Dr. Andy Baker, the Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer. “The keepers who work with the orangutans every day are affected deeply themselves, but will also be watching Tua closely for how she reacts to this loss. Animals are individuals, and we don’t know how this will affect her."

The Philadelphia Zoo's UNLESS project promotes the development of sustainably-sourced palm oil to combat deforestation and further loss of endangered wildlife.

“Although this is a sad loss," Baker said, "it is also a reminder that we are all responsible for the fate of orangutans in the wild on Sumatra and Borneo."