THE LONGEST CHILDHOOD
Hey everyone! My name is Courtney, and I’m a member of the Orangutan Care Team here at Zoo Atlanta. Orangutans are my favorite animal, so I love to talk about them and teach our guests fun facts. One of my favorite orangutan facts to share is that they have the second-longest infant dependency in the animal kingdom – second only to us humans!
What is infant dependency? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like! It’s when infants or offspring are dependent on their mothers or caregivers to survive. Orangutan kids are dependent on their mothers for around eight to 12 years, which is a very long time compared with most other primate species. Because mothers spend so much time raising their offspring, females will typically only have around three to four children in their lifetime. Orangutans will grow up to be solitary, which means once they leave Mom, they will spend most of their life on their own. Since they’ll have to fend for themselves, moms need to teach their kids all the important life skills they will need to survive in the wild.
Moms teach their kids where to find food, what other animals are a threat to them, how to find shelter and build their nests, among many other things as well. Orangutans are frugivores (or fruit eaters), so they spend a lot of their time searching for fruit in the rainforest. Moms will teach their offspring which trees fruit during what season so they will always be able to find food to eat. The rainforest can be a dangerous place, so moms also teach their kids what they should be on the lookout for, like large jungle cats such as leopards and tigers, as well as big snakes like pythons. Orangutans are arboreal, which means they spend most of their time up in the trees. They also build large, elaborate nests in trees to sleep in. Orangutans will use branches and leaves to build their nests in the wild. Here at the Zoo, they use branches and leaves too, but they also like to use hay and wood wool to make their nests nice and comfortable.
With all that information to learn, it makes sense that orangutans will stay with their mothers for such a long period of time before they go off to live on their own – they have a lot to learn and remember! It is really important that orangutans are raised by orangutan mothers for this reason, both in the wild and in zoological settings.
Here at Zoo Atlanta, we have three orangutan moms who are currently raising at least one kid. Bornean orangutan Miri is raising her 8-year-old son, Pelari. Sumatran orangutan Blaze is raising her 8-year-old son, Pongo. Our resident adoptive mom, Sumatran orangutan Madu, is raising 10-year-old Sumatran Remy and 6-year-old Bornean orangutan Keju. Next time you’re at the Zoo, take a look at the orangutan habitats and watch for the interactions between the moms and their children!
Keeper I, Primates