Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Zoosday Tuesday

Kalijon's Special Story

***The opinions shared on this blog are mine alone, and are not endorsed by the Kanas City Zoo.

As promised last week I am going to share the story of Kalijon, a very special orangutan who was born at the Kansas City Zoo on April 24, 2009.

When Kali was born, the staff at the zoo was prepared for the possibility that she would have to be hand reared. Her mother TK had refused to nurture her infants in the past, and while we all hoped that things would be different with Kali, we had to be prepared to take over.

TK was  not interested in being a mother to Kali, and since she had not nursed after 30 hours, she was taken from TK and given to keepers and docents to hand raise. (TK was not in the least upset by this. She got to go back with Kali's father Berani, who she's crazy about.)

Now it was up to the zoo staff and volunteers to hand raise baby Kalijon with the goal of getting her back with her own kind as soon as possible. We had an experienced mother orangutan, Jill, just waiting in the wings to take over when she was old enough. So instead of treating her like a human baby (which is easy to do becasue the size and anotomy are so similar), the "orangutan mamas" acted like orangutans.

They wore a special vest that opened in the back and was made out of synthetic fur a very shaggy, curly variety that baby Kali could grasp on to. They would support her to some extent, but it was important for her to develop her arm and leg muscles by grasping and pulling on the vest with both her hands and feet.

Kali didn't wear a diaper so the mamas just had to try to get out of the way when she eliminated, and I'm sure it was quite messy, but I wouldn't have minded. (I couldn't participate because of the dreaded day job.)

She was fed a bottle just like a human baby, and even drank human infant formula, (infamil).

During the five month hand rearing period the mamas and Kali stayed in an empty orangutan stall inside the orangutan building right next to the stall that Jill, the experience mother orangutan was in. She had to be held and cared for 24/7 so the mama would bring in bedding and make a "nest" at night and sleep with Kali.

There were about 15 mamas (both men and women, some staff and some docents) who took turns with Kali. By changing mamas so often, she never over-bonded with any one human, the one constant was Jill the orangutan mother in the next stall. Jill was always willing to share her opinion on the mamas orangutan raising abilities, whenever Kali cried she would gesture that the baby should be handed over to her, now.

The only thing standing between Jill and Kali was the fact that Jill wasn't lactating, and the keepers needed to continue to feed the baby to make sure they could acurately monitor how much she was eating. Jill's a great mom, but no one doubted that she would drink some of Kali's milk if she was given the bottle. So they had to come up with another solution.

Kali learned to take her bottle through the 2" x 2" mesh opening that separates the keepers from the animals, but what's really impressive is that Jill learned to present the baby for bottle feeding. The trainers used a stuffed orangutan to teach Jill that when they gave a command she was supposed to bring the baby to the mesh, hold her up and the keeper would give the bottle through the mesh.

On September 24th when Kali was just 5 months old, she was given to Jill to raise. This is the youngest any orangutan infant has ever been paired with an orangutan surrogate. Jill has been taking great care of Kali ever since. They kept up the bottle feeding through the mesh until Kali was one and had enough teeth to eat solid food.

Today, Kali lives in a group with Jill and her older daughter Josie. Josie is 8 1/2 now and in a couple of years will be ready to have a baby of her own. She has learned a lot about how to raise a baby from watching her mother and Kali. She also "babysits" and the two girls play more and more the older Kali gets. The other member of their group is Rufus a 23 year old, 303lb male orangutan. Rufus was part of Jill and Josie's group before Kali was born, and all four are now very happy together.

Orangutan's don't normally form social groups like this mainly because resources are too scarce in their native environment to allow them to live and travel in social groups. But in the zoo where resources are pleantiful their social nature comes out. As for TK and Birani who are Kali's natural parents, they are still crazy about each other. The two "groups" are kept in separate parts of the orangutan exhibit.


  1. SO very fascinating!! So glad she found a "mama".

  2. Wow, what a process. I can just see Jill's Mom instincts kick in when Kali was distressed, wanting to have the baby handed over. She must have been so happy once she finally got to 'mother' her for real.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  3. So glad that this had a happy ending. Strange and frightening to think that just as with humans just because two people/orangutans are crazy about each other they do not automatically make good parents.

  4. Jill is an allstar mom. She was even featured on the program "That's My Baby," which aired on Animal Planet in the US, when she was pregnant with Josie. They filmed her sonograms and everything right up to Josie's birth. It's pretty cool.

  5. I can't help but be sad that Kali's parents are crazy about each other but not about their children. There are human parents like this too which is what makes it that much more fascinating.

    I adore Kali's surrogate mother Jill. What a pure soul.


  6. Awwwww what a lovely story!! Thank you for sharing this here!! It's great to hear that the babies are reared as naturally as possible - I hope there aren't any more zoos on this planet who put nappies on baby animals! So yay for all of you there!!! I'm so glad to hear that all the orangutans you have are thriving!!! They are so endangered as a species it's just great to hear that they are doing well somewhere! Take care

  7. Thanks for sharing this! I'm always fascinated by stories involving orangutans, apes, monkeys, etc...It's amazing how like humans they can be.

  8. It's such a touching story! Makes me want to run to the zoo now and take them all in, just observe and know.

  9. Isn't it amazing what animals are capable of doing for one another?

  10. He's so cute. Amazing story. :D

    (And the answer to your question on my blog: I think most bookstores carry them in the romance section. At least they do here. I downloaded the book on my ereader.) ;)

  11. What a story! Next time I go to KC will have to visit!

  12. That is so incredibly sweet (and amazing!).

  13. AAWWWW!! what a sweet story, Melissa. Happy to hear Kali is loved and well-taken care of. I love happy endings!