Dewi turns two

7 December 2012

Baby Sumatran Orang-utan Dewi has celebrated her birthday with a special gluten-free cake and toys.

She also enjoyed the festively-wrapped gift and treat boxes!

Two years old is still very young in orang-utan terms, because mothers of Asia’s only Great Ape species take care of their babies for longer than any other species, with the exception of humans.

Orang-utans aren’t fully independent of their mothers until they are seven or eight years old, and mothers don’t reproduce again until they have successfully raised each baby.

That long birth interval means that it is very difficult to replace any population losses.

While Dewi has been getting the best of maternal care at the Zoo, in the orang-utans’ native rainforests, the situation is very different.

Zoos Victoria Conservation Director Rachel Lowry explains that the loss of rainforests due to the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia is the largest single threat to the orang-utans’ survival.

She says that conservation experts in the field estimate that up to 50 orang-utans a week are dying as their treetops homes are taken away.

Dewi is the second baby for mother Maimunah and father Santan and the baby sister for nine-year-old brother Menyaru.

Maimunah and her mate Santan were selected to form a pair because they are unrelated, so their breeding is helping to maintain the maximum genetic diversity within the international breeding program for Sumatran Orang-utans.

Melbourne Zoo Director Kevin Tanner says that ‘while we celebrate Dewi’s birthday, we are also aware that without conservation measures this species could be lost in the wild in the near future.

‘Our Don’t Palm us Off community conservation campaign is working to change labelling laws so that we as consumers will be able to see when palm oil is an ingredient in the manufactured foods we buy and make a choice accordingly.

‘Accurate labelling should encourage the use of sustainable palm oil, which can be produced without causing harm to wildlife,’ he explains.