Audubon Zoo consults New Orleans Children’s Hospital to treat newborn orangutan

NEW ORLEANS (press release) – Audubon Zoo’s newborn male orangutan receives 24-hour care by the zoo’s veterinary and primate care staff under consultation with specialists from the New Orleans Children’s Hospital and AZA Orangutan Species Survival Plan advisors.

On December 27, the infant was showing signs of weakness and not breastfeeding. Based on concerns about the infant’s body temperature and weight, the team stepped in to hand-lift the infant and bottle-feed him until he could safely find Menari.

“The infant care team also noticed that their sucking response was poor and inconsistent,” said Audubon’s senior veterinarian, Bob MacLean. “The New Orleans Children’s Hospital has offered its support to the critically endangered infant by providing the expertise of a clinical speech-language pathologist and lactation specialists. Lactation specialists work with the infant to assess their sucking reflex and train our team to stimulate the appropriate sucking response. So far it has been very successful.

The Children’s Hospital tests the infant’s blood in the hospital, providing Audubon with faster results than a veterinary lab. Laboratory work so far indicates possible central hypothyroidism.

“Central hypothyroidism slows normal metabolic growth and is relatively rare, found in only 1 in 100,000 human infants,” MacLean explained. “While waiting to validate the results, we plan to administer medication to alleviate the disease and work with the Species Survival Plan veterinary advisor to prepare a treatment plan if this proves to be problematic.”

There are a number of key steps an infant will need to go through before reuniting with its mother. The infant should establish a consistent feeding response and Menari should produce enough milk to feed him. Experts at SSP Orangutan have indicated that it could take up to two weeks for her to develop full milk production. The infant care team should also assess the infant’s possible hypothyroidism and its response to treatment.

“We have high hopes that it will continue to improve under the 24/7 care of our dedicated primate team,” said Audubon Zoo vice president and general curator Bob Lessnau. “We are very grateful for our team of expert consultants and for the outpouring of community support for this critically endangered infant.”

Regular updates on the newborn will be shared on Audubon’s social networks.

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