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Orphan orangutan who just wants a Mummy

Orphan orangutan who just wants a Mummy: Monkey charity hopes to unite 12-week-old Bulu Mata with adoptive mother after his own died suddenly shortly after his birth

• Bulu Mata, whose name means 'long eyelashes' in Indonesian, is currently being nursed at Monkey World in Dorset
• Staff hope one of the other orangutans will adopt him so he does not fixate on human carers and become rejected
• Orangutan babies
stay with their mother for seven years picking up survival skills and get on with other primates
• Hsaio-qua, 18-year-old orangutan, is potential candidate to be his mother for her strong maternal instincts

27 December 2014

With tins of formula milk filling the cupboards, bottles galore and a sterilising unit permanently in use, this nursery is no different from thousands of others across the country.

Jars of Sudocrem for nappy rash are dotted about, there’s a changing mat and plenty of fresh nappies. But as new mum Kate Diver nurses her little charge, gently winding him after a meal and rubbing Bonjela into his aching gums as he teethes, it’s clear this is no ordinary baby.

Instead, Bulu Mata is an orphaned 12-week-old orangutan, brought into Monkey World in Dorset earlier this month after his mother suddenly died from intestine problems a week after his birth in Budapest Zoo. Scroll down for video

 
Baby love: Bulu Mata snuggles into his favourite blue blanket at
Monkey World where staff hope he will be adopted by another orangutan

Head of Apes, Kate, 32, is one of a team of four staff currently nursing the little lad, whose name means ‘long eyelashes’ in Indonesian, round the clock.

But looking through the window with interest at this quaint scene is a far more important woman. It’s Hsaio-qua, an 18-year-old orangutan who’s been at the rescue centre since she was abandoned outside a Taiwan amusement park aged five. Staff hope she will soon take over their duties and become the baby ape’s mum.

She’s been chosen because her maternal instinct is so strong: she’s had two sons of her own and, three years ago, adopted a tiny female called Awan, who had been abandoned by her mother. 


As soon as she saw the baby’s plight, she stepped in and swept the little one up into her arms. But now Awan is three-and-a-half and staff feel her adoptive mum is ready for another challenge.

They’ve introduced them and Hsaio-qua showed some interest, touching and sniffing the new baby, but she’s yet to pick him up and take him as her own like she did with Awan.

‘We’re really confident she will love Bulu Mata,’ says Alison Cronin, director of Monkey World. ‘He’s got everything he needs to bring out the nurturing instinct in her — huge eyes, cute little wriggles.’
 

Baby orangutan 'adopted' at Monkey World in Dorset

     
Swinging in: Bulu Mata is given a helping hand as he takes his first baby steps (left) and chewing on a teething ring to help soothe sore gums

Indeed he has. As I watch him — I can’t get too close because I’ve got a cold and his small lungs make him vulnerable to infection — I, too, fall in love with this special little creature with his soft ginger fur, long arms and huge, gummy smile.

Now seven pounds, he’s already trying to push himself up to stand. To encourage him, staff regularly hold his fingers and help him ‘walk’ a few baby steps. It’s vital he builds up his strength so that, when he is finally adopted, he can hold on tight to his new mum as she whirls around the trees, high above the ground, in her enclosure.

When he’s not trying to stand up or sleep (like most babies this is his major occupation), he plays with the teething ring above the baby mat he lies on, eyes darting round his little nursery. 

 
Monkey business: The 12-week-old orangutan snuggles up close to carer Kate Diver,
who wears a specially-made orange jacket with tassels that mimic orangutan fur
so he learns how to hold on to his new mother tightly

But Bulu Mata’s eyes can’t yet focus properly and the experts at Monkey World believe this is why he hasn’t yet bonded with Hsaio-qua. In the next few weeks, as he develops, this will happen naturally. Then, says Alison, it’s a ‘done deal’. ‘All he needs to do is look at Hsaio-qua and reach out his hand,’ she explains. ‘She’s so maternal, she won’t be able to resist.

‘It will make all the difference to his life. He’s missing out on so much. The only long-term relationship orangutans ever have is between a mother and her baby. It’s vital he grows up with primates of his own kind, otherwise he will find it hard to fit in.’

Normally, orangutan babies stay with mum for seven years — the longest childhood of any ape — picking up the skills they need to survive and get on with other primates.

In their first year, they never leave their mother’s side. Staff worry that if Bulu Mata isn’t adopted, he’ll fixate on one of his carers, not learn how to socialise with his own kind and never be accepted by the other 17 orangutans in the centre.

It’s why he has four people looking after him, not just one — to lessen the risk. And if anyone knows what’s best for him, it’s Monkey World. It looks after 250 orphaned, abandoned and rescued primates and has Europe’s only monkey crèche, which currently contains six baby orangutans.

Set up in Wareham in 1987 by Jim Cronin — Alison’s husband who died in 2007 of liver cancer — it receives no Government grants, instead relying on donations and entrance fees. The baby orangutans and their mothers live in a building with a playroom kitted out with climbing frames, hammocks and ropes to encourage and teach them how to swing through trees. There’s also a half-acre outdoor enclosure filled with trees and climbing frames.

Bulu Mata is too small to go in this gym, but he can watch the goings-on, and learn orangutan behaviour through a window.

Once he’s bonded with Hsaio-qua — the name means ‘good little girl’ in Chinese — it’s where they’ll spend the next few months.

They met on his second day at Monkey World. Bulu Mata was laid in a small tunnel next to his potential mum’s bedroom then she was let in. She went straight over and touched him but, much to the keepers’ disappointment, didn’t immediately sweep him up to her breast.

‘We hoped Hsaio-qua would just stroll in and say: “Baby,” ’ Alison admits. Instead they let her visit him every day in the same way — keeping the visits ‘short and sweet’ so she doesn’t get bored.

Until he’s adopted, Bulu Mata’s days start at 8.15am when he leaves the on-site house where he’s spent the night with whichever carer is on duty and is carried to the nursery. There, he is fed formula milk by bottle every four hours, although he’s expected to be weaned onto baby rice then pureed fruit and vegetables in the next few weeks.

Bulu Mata, one of the ‘critically endangered’ Sumatran orangutans of whom there are only 7,000 left in the wild, gets around by clinging to his carers. They wear a specially-made orange jacket with tassels that mimic orangutan fur so he learns how to hold on to mum tightly — nobody wants him falling when she’s swinging from tree to tree.

‘He clings on so tight that peeling him off is really hard work,’ says Kate Diver.

‘I tie my hair back but he still sometimes manages to grab some and when he does, it really hurts. He’s got a vice-like grip.

‘But he’s such a cheerful little chap — he’s got the most gorgeous temperament, very laid back and gentle. He never whinges and only cries when he’s seriously hungry.

 
Potential parent: Hsiao-quai cuddles up to three-year-old female orangutan, Awan,
who she adopted after she was abandoned by her mother

‘After feeding, I have to wind him. I change his nappies, too — he’s so tiny he’s in premature baby nappies. They’re necessary because he doesn’t have a mum to keep him clean and away from any mess.

‘Then I put on the nappy cream — just like with a human baby. He’s starting to teethe so I put Bonjela on his gums to try and ease any pain. The only thing I can’t do is shin up trees the way his mum would have done.’

Even so, Kate knows human care is second best and can’t wait for Hsaio-qua to step up to the mark.

‘We all adore him but he doesn’t need us — he needs a mum,’ she says. ‘If we can achieve that, we will have given him the best gift in the world.’

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