Journal: Kecil Orangutan

Kecil, a 6-month-old male orangutan, arrived at Brookfield Zoo on June 20 to be introduced to a surrogate mom, Maggie, the zoo’s 53-year-old Bornean orangutan. Kecil was born on January 11, 2014, at Ohio’s Toledo Zoo, but his mom showed little interest in caring for him as did a surrogate mom at Milwaukee County Zoo, where significant bonding was not achieved.

Journal #7: How We Prepared for Kecil's Arrival - Part 2

Kecil_7-1.jpgWhen Kecil arrived on June 20, 2014, he was such an adorable baby. It was impossible not to fall in love with him. Now that he had stolen our hearts, it was time for him to steal Maggie’s. Because this baby was new to Maggie and we did not know how she would react to him, Maggie was shown Kecil or “visually introduced” to Kecil while he was being held outside of the enclosure. Maggie showed immediate interest in Kecil and began sticking out her fingers to try to touch him.

Since the visual introduction was a success, it was now time for Kecil to become familiar with his new home. Kecil was placed in his enclosure while we sat nearby for comfort. He quickly began exploring his new surroundings. When he seemed calm and comfortable on his own, it was time for him and Maggie to meet face to face.

Maggie quickly went up to Kecil and began inspecting him, touching him gently, and sniffing him. Both of them were remarkably calm during their first few moments together. As time went on, we saw positive signs that their bond would grow. When it was time to give Kecil his bottle shortly after the introduction, Maggie sat next to Kecil drinking juice from a cup while Kecil drank his bottle. We took overnight shifts to observe them continually that first night and we saw many gentle interactions between them. Maggie inspected his feet as he slept and she pulled him close to her once when he whimpered, both very positive signs.

As the days passed, Maggie and Kecil’s bond continued to grow. Maggie would often check on Kecil when he slept, come to Kecil’s aid when he would cry, and play with him often. Maggie was even heard making new vocalizations towards Kecil. She began making low grunting vocalization and holding her arm out towards Kecil. He would quickly run up to her and grabbed onto her arm. We were thrilled to see this progress and enjoyed watching their bond grow every day. We see new light in Maggie since Kecil’s arrival and are excited for what the future holds.

Kecil-Brunei-Blog.jpgWhat happened to Brunei you may ask? Brunei has been enjoying bachelor life since being separated from Maggie. He still gets lots of keeper attention and is as playful and attentive as ever.

- Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG Entry - November 18, 2014
Kecil seems much more interested in solid foods the past few days. Spoke to our nutritionist and she changed his pureed baby food to chunks of the same veggie and starch that Maggie gets. He ate the new diet well today.

KLOG Entry – December 2, 2014
Brunei spent time today watching Kecil play on the other side of their shared clear door. Kecil didn’t seem to pay any attention to Brunei in return.

Journal #6: How We Prepared for Kecil’s Arrival - Part 1

kecil-blog6-B.jpgLooking back, June 20th was an exciting day for the Asia team and everyone in Tropic World. Kecil, a 5-month-old Bornean Orangutan, was coming from the Milwaukee Zoo to make his home at Brookfield Zoo! But much work had to be done to get ready for his arrival in a short amount of time. The staff from our Nutrition Services department, along with our maintenance department and the primate keepers from both the Milwaukee Zoo and Brookfield Zoo all worked together to make sure everything was ready for Kecil’s arrival.

We corresponded with his primary keeper at the Milwaukee Zoo to learn more about Kecil. Could he move around well enough on his own to come up to keepers to drink his bottle? What formula was he on and what times were his feedings? We found out we would need our night keepers to feed Kecil his bottles during the night at 10 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., so we asked our night keepers to begin giving Maggie juice at these times to acclimate her to waking up and coming up to the night keeper during the night.

Baby Proofing
We also looked at the enclosures Kecil would be staying in and began to ‘baby proof’ them. We removed all heavy objects from these enclosures to ensure nothing could fall on him. We learned that Kecil was good at climbing up the mesh of the enclosure but had a trouble getting back down. A Plexiglas barrier was added on the inside of the enclosure to prevent him from climbing too high and many fire hose vines were added to aid him in his journeys. We also collected some soft fleece blankets for Kecil’s comfort as well as some baby toys for him to play with.

Now that Kecil’s home was all set, we geared our efforts toward making sure that Maggie was ready for his arrival. Maggie had been living with her companion Brunei, a 23-year-old male prior to Kecil’s arrival. To keep Kecil as safe as possible, the decision was made to separate Maggie from Brunei. Part of the regular husbandry of orangutans at the Brookfield zoo is separation training. Maggie and Brunei were experts at this type of training, so when they were separated it seemed normal.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of How We Prepared for Kecil’s Arrival


Journal #5: New Teeth; New Diet

Orangutans have the same number of teeth, which emerge in the same order as human infant’s teeth and at about the same age. When Kecil arrived at Brookfield Zoo, he had two tiny lower teeth. Over the next two months, more teeth erupted and we saw him chewing on everything in sight while he was teething. He now has a set of 10 baby teeth, and the addition of two very large top front teeth has really changed Kecil’s overall look. He is even more adorable now!

Kecil-teeth-blog5-(3).jpgWith most of his baby teeth out, Kecil can now eat chunky pieces of soft food from Maggie’s diet. He likes sucking on small pieces of tomato, and can process small pieces of steamed carrot and steamed sweet potato. He just tried some ripe pear and LOVED it! Banana is of course a favorite and is still mixed into his oatmeal cereal twice a day. We are also introducing him to small pieces of a primate biscuit that we feed to all the adult orangutans and has the vitamins and protein they need for a healthy diet.

Kecil is also down to four bottles a day now. The night keepers report that Kecil is used to the routine of his night bottle and is usually waiting for them with Maggie at the front of their exhibit area. He has begun sucking on Maggie’s cheek while he waits for the bottle to be warmed, slurps it down and goes back to sleep.

- The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG Entry – October 6, 2014
Still offering a small piece of primate biscuit both soaked in formula and dry. Kecil takes it readily but spits it out after a few seconds. Maggie is happy to consume what he spits out.

KLOG Entry – October 20, 2014
Now that Kecil is eating some adult diet items, the Tropic World Asia team decided to add a small diet bowl for him inside Maggie’s diet bowl. Additional daily diet items for Kecil have been added to the diet prep chart.


Journal #4: Why Surrogate Moms? Why Maggie?

Overall, orangutans make great moms as they are very nurturing and gentle with their young.  For the first six to eight years, orangutan offspring spend the vast majority of their life very close to their mothers. They nurse from their moms for at least the first three years of their lives until they slowly start to become more independent. This is true for orangutans born both in zoos and in the wild.

In zoos when orangutan moms are not able to care for their young for a variety of reasons, zoo keepers will step in and do everything possible to support mom and infant in hopes that the mom can overcome whatever obstacles she has, so she can care for her infant.

In 1996, Maggie was given a chance to raise an infant in need named Mukah from Lincoln Park Zoo. Much like Kecil, Mukah was born to an orangutan mom who had no interest in caring for her infant. So, Mukah was sent to Brookfield Zoo and was introduced to two other females who had infants of their own. However, none of them accepted him…until it was Maggie’s turn! 

Maggie and Mukah were placed on opposite sides of the same door. The door was opened just enough for Mukah to fit through, but not Maggie. So, she stuck her arm through the opening and waited patiently for Mukah to get enough courage to approach her. All was quiet and peaceful, so the zoo keepers decided to let them be alone for a while. When they returned, Mukah was sitting on Maggie’s lap, and from then on, the two were inseparable for the next six years! Maggie also began producing milk, and Mukah nursed from her just like she was his original mom.

Maggie is calm and laid back. She is also very patient, loves to play, and rarely stirs up trouble. These are some of the qualities that make her an ideal candidate to be a surrogate mom for these young orangutans in need such as Kecil or Mukah.

-The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG entry - August 15, 2014: Kecil climbed up to high shelf by himself. He was content to hang out there for about 10 minutes, but then he began to scream. Maggie rescued him by climbing up and reaching out for him. He calmed as soon as she arrived.

KLOG entry - August 23, 2014: Asked Maggie and Kecil to move from one enclosure to a clean enclosure after cleaning in the morning.  Maggie got close enough to Kecil for him to grab onto her hair and brought him to the door.  She then waited as he went through the door first. Maggie was gently grooming and mouthing Kecil's head in the afternoon.

Maggie & Kecil

Journal #3: Playtime with Kecil

Kecil loves to play! Sometimes he plays with Maggie, and sometimes he plays all by himself. While he has toys and blankets just like toddlers, he also does things that are more specific to orangutan kids - swinging on ropes and climbing up high.


Something that may seem familiar are his blankets. When Kecil first came to Brookfield Zoo, he always had one of his blankets with him, sleeping with them and carrying them around. He liked them so much, that when Maggie wanted to play, she would wave one at him to get his attention. As Kecil gets more comfortable around Maggie, we’re noticing that he doesn’t rely on his blankets as much as he used to. We’ve slowly started to wean him off of them, in the hope that he will turn to Maggie when he needs comforting. So far this has been working well, and Kecil seems to be spending more time with Maggie and less time with his blankets.


Kecil’s other favorite toys are the ropes that hang down in the area that he shares with Maggie. He uses them to swing on, play peek-a-boo with Maggie, and to help him get from one place to another. We are very happy to see that he uses these ropes so much, since swinging is an important, natural behavior for orangutans.

When Kecil arrived at Brookfield Zoo, he only knew how to climb up, but he couldn’t climb back down. Maggie would come to his rescue by sitting under Kecil and letting him grab onto her head to slowly lower him back down to the floor. This happened for several weeks, until one day, Kecil slowly climbed down all by himself. Now he goes up and down throughout the day! Climbing is an important skill for orangutans to master. In the wild, orangutans spend over 90% of their time up in the trees. It’s where they eat, sleep, and play.

- The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG Entry - July 3, 2014: Kecil was seen using Maggie to climb off the front of the enclosure several times today. Maggie chose to sit by Kecil and he seemed to enjoy climbing on her.

KLOG Entry - July 28, 2014: Kecil was seen climbing up to the high shelf. He would not come all the way down for his morning cereal, so he was fed while he clung about 4 ft. off the ground.




Journal Entry #2: Kecil’s Daily Care

A six-month old orangutan infant who is raised by his mother would be getting all of his nutrition from his mother’s milk. Since Kecil is being raised by Maggie, we need to provide him with a proper diet. Our staff nutritionist Jennifer Watts, PhD, has formulated an appropriate diet to insure Kecil is getting all the vitamins, calories and nutrition he needs to grow and thrive. Kecil is on a diet of formula, and infant cereal (oatmeal) mixed with about 1 tablespoon of banana.

Kecil knows to come up to keepers for both his bottle and his cereal and he loves both! Sometimes he is fast asleep for his 3:30 AM and 7:30 AM bottles which are fed to him by our Night Keeper. Maggie wakes him up gently and he holds onto some part of her body, her head or arm as she brings him up to the Night Keeper so Kecil can drink his bottle.

We are offering just one new food item per week to be sure he doesn’t have an allergic reaction to any new diet items. So far he’s tried carrots and applesauce. He seems to be a fan of both these foods. (Next week it will be green beans.) We write a daily report that we use to record all relevant information and use this report to communicate important information to other zoo staff, the vet staff and the nutritionist. It is then archived in his personal records. We call this report a KLOG (which stands for Keeper Log). See below for a few excerpts from the KLOG about little Kecil.

-The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG Entry - July 15, 2014 Kecil drank all his formula from the night keepers last night. Maggie had to wake him for his 3:30 AM bottle but once she woke him up, he drank well. He was observed playing with the new toy we hung up for him frequently today.

KLOG Entry – July 18, 2014 Kecil seems to be teething. He is chewing on everything in sight including Maggie’s fingers and face! Gave him a cool wet cloth to chew on and he sucked and chewed on it for a long time. He eventually lost it in the hay bedding and Maggie found it and traded it to keeper for a treat.

KLOG Entry – July 22, 2014
Maggie somersaulted around the cage a few times, soliciting play from Kecil. He didn't respond to her. Kecil was especially concentrating on working out his legs at this time (doing "squats").


Journal Entry # 1: Welcome, Kecil!

Six-month-old Kecil orangutan has been at Brookfield Zoo for just over a month now. The day he arrived we could hardly contain our excitement! Knowing Maggie so well, we felt certain she would be gentle with him. Maggie went right over to Kecil when they were introduced and touched his head gently with her lips. Kecil took meeting Maggie in stride and they are bonding more every day. Now Maggie does the round the clock work of caring for him and we keepers provide his nutrition. It is unusual for an orangutan to adopt an infant but there are a few special females like Maggie who find room in their lives to care for another’s offspring.

Our primary goal in introducing Kecil and Maggie was to provide a normal upbringing for him. The longer infant orangutans are raised by humans the harder it is for them to interact normally with other orangutans later in life. An unexpected outcome has been the change we are seeing now in Maggie. She is so attentive to Kecil, she watches out for him, plays with him and cuddles with him. It seems to have given her a new purpose in life. We are all thrilled by the progress we see in their relationship every day!

-The Tropic World Asia Keepers