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First orangutan born at St. Louis Zoo in nine years

The newborn orangutan sleeps on it's mother.
Helen Boostrom
St. Louis Zoo
New mother Rubih lays with her as-yet unnamed baby.

An orangutan at the St. Louis Zoo gave birth to her first baby and the first at the zoo in nine years on the morning of Dec. 22, officials announced Thursday.

The new mother, Rubih (pronounced ROO-bee), was born at the zoo 19 years ago. The baby's father, Cinta, came from the San Diego Zoo in 2012.

Helen Boostrom, the zoological manager of primates at the zoo, said Rubih is doing everything right to care for the newborn.

“As long as mom is doing what she needs to do, and the baby looks healthy, we don't intervene. We don't have to get hands on the baby,” said Helen Boostrom, the zoological manager of primates at the zoo.

The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered because of its difficulty surviving in the wild; habitat loss, due to a high demand for palm oil, threatens its survival. The baby was born with the help of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Orangutan Species Survival Plan.

The father came here as a juvenile “and the thought was that he would eventually get a breeding recommendation with Rubih, but they also kind of grew up as teenagers together,” said Boostrom.

Rubih’s pregnancy was monitored at the zoo with routine ultrasounds. Orangutans at the zoo are trained with treats to participate in medical screenings. Rubih learned to enjoy her ultrasounds with the help of her favorite treats including grapes and diluted juice, Boostrom said.

“The caretakers on the team, we work really hard on building a trusting relationship,” Boostrom said, “[Rubih] knew right where to go, she'd come right over and sit in her spot and press her belly up without a lot of asking.”

Rubih the Orangutan lays with her new baby.
Melissa McElya
St. Louis Zoo
Rubih with her baby

The mother and her baby are bonding in a private area of the Jungle of the Apes, the place she gave birth. They’ll be given privacy until Rubih allows the care team to determine the baby’s sex. Once this happens, a name will be chosen.

“The caretakers, the Jungle of the Apes team, is voting on names right now,” Boostrom said.

The baby and its mother are not yet available for regular viewing, but visitors could get a glimpse if the pair decide to come into the dayroom at Jungle of the Apes on their own. For now, the Primate Care and Animal Health team will monitor them.

Lauren Brennecke is a senior studying journalism and media studies at Webster University. She is a 2023-24 Newsroom Intern at St. Louis Public Radio.