GRANT PARK — Blaze, a 16-year-old Sumatran orangutan, gave birth to a male on Jan. 10 at Zoo Atlanta. He was delivered via Caesarean section with the consultation of an extensive pre-appointed medical team that comprised human obstetricians, neonatologists and veterinary anesthesiologists.
Blaze’s Caesarean section is one of only three performed on Sumatran orangutans in recent years. She is a small-bodied female, and her reproductive history includes a previous birth, but the offspring did not survive the birth process, possibly due to causes related to Blaze’s small size.
These factors prompted the Zoo Atlanta Animal Management and Veterinary Teams to compile a detailed birth management plan in preparation for several potential birth scenarios.
The procedure was performed by the Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team in conjunction with an assemblage of human experts and consultant veterinarians. These included an obstetrical team from Haven Ob/Gyn:
- Dr. Brad Moore
- Dr. Bryan Jewell
- Nurse Deneen Moore
It also included a veterinary anesthesia team:
- Ben Brainard and Jane Quandt, both doctors of veterinary medicine with the University of Georgia's Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
And a neonatal team Neonatology Associates of Atlanta and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta:
- Dr. Sandy Jun
- Dr. Wendy Troyer
- Respiratory therapist Willie Bailey
- Nurse Kum Kim
- Nurse Roberta Boyd
"It was an exciting honor to be included in this team of specialists to help Blaze give birth successfully," Jun said. "It was very rewarding to use our human neonatal skills to deliver this orangutan newborn safely, and we were glad to find that many of those skills translated seamlessly across species. It is not something we will forget."
Blaze appears to be recovering normally from the procedure and her baby is currently in a nursery unit in the care of the Zoo Atlanta Veterinary Team and primate care professionals. The team hopes to reintroduce the infant to Blaze as soon as possible so that the new mother may begin bonding with her newborn.
“We’re delighted that Blaze’s infant has arrived safely, and that infant and mother seem to be doing well,” said Raymond King, Zoo Atlanta's president and chief executive.
“We’re doubly grateful for the support and participation of such a wide range of outside medical experts, all coming together with our team to follow an extremely well-executed plan with a superb level of professionalism and dedication.”
Blaze, who has been trained to participate in voluntary ultrasounds throughout her pregnancy, has also benefited from additional training to encourage appropriate maternal care and cooperation with veterinarians and animal care staff. She has been under round-the-clock observation since her birth window began on Jan. 2.
The offspring’s father, 33-year-old Benny, has been temporarily separated from Blaze but will be reunited with her and the baby soon. Zoo Atlanta is home to the nation’s largest zoological collection of orangutans, now with 14 individuals.
Not only is Blaze’s baby the first high-profile Zoo birth of 2013, but the delivery also sends a crucial message of hope for a critically endangered species.
Now believed to number fewer than 7,000 in the wild, Sumatran orangutan populations have declined drastically in recent years as a result of habitat conversion to palm oil plantations, over-harvesting of timber, and human encroachment. Without targeted conservation efforts, experts predict that the species could be extinct in the wild within 10 years.
— Zoo Atlanta