Markisa, a 20-year-old orangutan, held her baby protectively Thursday at the Como Zoo in St. Paul. The unnamed male was born a month ago by C-section. Zoo staff have worked to encourage Markisa’s maternal instincts.

Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Baby watch continues at Como Zoo

  • Article by: Ben Goessling
  • Star Tribune
  • January 10, 2008 - 11:45 PM

The Como Zoo's new baby orangutan has impressed on everyone from the zookeepers who watched him round-the-clock through the holidays to the doctors from the University of Minnesota who resuscitated the baby when he stopped breathing shortly after birth.

He's the zoo's 14th baby orangutan to survive since 1959. He arrived Dec. 13 in an unusual way: He was the first in the zoo's history to be delivered by Caesarean section.

Below are some of the observations of three animal experts working with the mother, Markisa, and her as-yet-unnamed baby.

Dr. Micky Trent

Trent, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the zoo’s head veterinarian, has helped all kinds of animals from giraffes to bears to elephants deliver babies by C-section, but the intense similarities between apes and humans made this process different.

Weeks after the procedure, she’s still struck by how closely the mother-child bond resembles that of humans.

Joy, the Como Zoo’s dominant female orangutan, is headed to Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fla., with her 8-year-old son, Willie, because she keeps homing in on Markisa’s baby.

“She brings every object she has [to Markisa], trying to trade for the baby,” Trent said. “Now we have to manage those relationships.”

Megan Elder

The zoo’s lead orangutan trainer probably logged the most hours through the birth process, and she logged dozens of hours holding the baby while wearing a furry vest so he could learn the concept of clinging to his mother.

When Markisa spit a mouthful of water at zookeepers holding the baby, Elder shouted “good girl” to encourage her maternal instincts.

Most zoos recommend reuniting mothers and their young a year after a C-section, but Elder saw Como’s aggressive approach pay off when Markisa ran to the baby as soon as he was placed in her holding area.

“You do bond pretty intensely [with the animals]. They look to you for comfort and protection,” Elder said. “I’m now finally at a point where I can rest at night.”

Dr. Yasuko Yamamura

A medical fellow in the obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Minnesota, Yamamura offered the zoo advice weeks before birth.

She was called in to work on the surgery when Dr. Kirk Raymin, the director of the fellowship program, couldn’t go because Markisa wanted a female doctor. “I called him and said, 'Don’t make me go,’” she said. “In retrospect, I for sure would want to be here.”

Yamamura and colleagues performed 20 minutes of CPR on the baby after he developed fluid in his lungs and stopped breathing five minutes after birth. She visited the baby twice the next day and called for updates so often she worried she was badgering the staff.

“When we were resuscitating him, I never thought that was anything other than a little baby,” she said. “I want to know everything about him.”

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