Eve, a 14-year-old orangutan at Salt Lake City's Hogle Zoo, gave birth to her first offspring at 9:30 a.m. on Mother's Day. University Hospital experts and the zoo's veterinary staff performed a Caesarean section to deliver the 3.6-pound baby girl.
Because the birthing process did not run its natural course, Mom is a bit skeptical about whether the baby is hers, zoo spokeswoman Stacey Phillips said.
But thanks to extensive "motherhood" training, Eve seems at least to recognize the tiny orangutan is a baby. Zoo staff spent months using small stuffed animals to train Eve to carry and care for her offspring. In the wild, orangutans can watch other females transform into mothers. Eve needed training because she had no female role models at the zoo, Phillips said.
Eve and her baby, which has yet to be named, will be kept out of public view for several weeks. The newborn is being kept at the zoo's animal hospital and spends much of its time in an incubator.
Young animals need their mothers to keep them warm, as the new arrivals are unable to control their own body temperature, said Nancy Carpenter, the zoo's head veterinarian.
Eve's baby was born with a faint heartbeat and had problems breathing, but she seems to be doing better now, Phillips said.
A Caesarean section came into play after Eve, who mated with Elijah, a 14-year-old male orangutan, had spent several hours in labor beginning Saturday.
Eve, who weighed 120 pounds during her pregnancy, ran into problems with her relatively hefty baby.
"She was having a lot of trouble giving birth and was getting nowhere with it," Carpenter said.
University Hospital sent experts to help with the C-section, an uncommon but straight-forward operation for an orangutan. Carpenter said she is aware of a few other orangutans who needed such medical assistance.
To acclimate Eve to her baby, zoo staff have shown the newborn to Mom for short periods of time. It could be a while before Eve realizes the baby is no threat to her.
Until a mother-daughter reunion is permanent, animal care personnel will feed the baby infant formula.
Phillips said the new orangutan, whose birth contributes to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Species Survival Plan, will live at Hogle for up to three years. She then likely will be sent to another zoo, depending on breeding needs and who has space for her. Orangutans can live up to 60 years in captivity.
"She's got to bond with her mom first, that's our first focus," Phillips said.
If Eve does not take to her offspring in the coming months, the association could send the baby to a more experienced, surrogate mother at another zoo. But Hogle hopes nature resumes its course here.