Fascinating video shows how an orangutan mom learned to nurse from a breastfeeding zookeeper
Zoe had been orphaned at a young age and hadn't developed her maternal instincts.
Whitlee Turner, a zookeeper for the Metro Richmond Zoo in Virginia, was given a unique task—teach an orangutan to breastfeed.
Turner’s pupil, Zoe, had been orphaned at a young age, and without guidance presumably hadn’t learned any maternal instincts. Zoe’s first baby had to be hand-raised after she was unable to nurse, so when baby #2 came around, the zoo was determined to reach a different outcome.
That’s why they called on Turner, who had coincidentally also become a new mom. Thinking Zoe could be taught by example—a strategy that’s proven successful in the past—Turner was asked to bring her newborn son, Caleb, in to give a demonstration.
Turner agreed wholeheartedly.
A video posted by the Metro Richmond Zoo shows Turner and Caleb soon visiting Zoe’s indoor enclosure to show the orangutan mom how it’s done.
"With my bra down, I was very exaggerated when I put him on so that [Zoe] could see that the baby goes here. The whole time, I was talking to her and pointing at her, pointing at the baby, pointing at her breasts. And when Caleb was latched I was showing it to her, making sure that she saw the important part," Turners says. "The whole time she just kept watching me curiously."
In addition, the zoo had put a TV inside Zoe’s habitat showing other orangutan mothers giving birth and taking care of their young (which Zoe loved watching, apparently), and would perform other live demos with small stuffed animals to “kickstart” her maternal instincts.
All in all, the effort was a success. Zoe not only breastfed her son, but the two have created a healthy, happy bond and can be seen together by zoo visitors.
Breastfeeding might be a natural process shared by all mammals, but it is complex and miraculous nonetheless. Even Turner admitted that it didn’t come easy to her at first.
"I had a really hard time in the beginning as a new mom with my breastfeeding journey. [I] required a lot of guidance and help before we really figured it out," she said.
This is clearly a challenge that connects many mothers across all species, which is why Turner felt compelled to share what she had learned along the way.
"Whether it was an orangutan or a human, I just want to be able to help any new mom."