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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

San Diego Zoo welcomes baby orangutan birth

By Diane Bell, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Published: January 28, 2022, 6:07am

SAN DIEGO — Births are spreading New Year’s cheer at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

Zoo fans were saddened when charismatic 26-year-old orangutan Satu collapsed and died Dec. 22 while fighting an illness thought to be cancer. Since his birth at the zoo in 1995, he had sired two offspring, a male and a female.

Thirteen days after his death, Satu once again became a father.

On Jan. 4, a healthy male Sumatran orangutan entered the world. His mom is a 35-year-old female named Indah.

It was joyous news, and the 2-week-old infant of the critically endangered species made his private photo debut, looking adorable, on Jan. 18 at the zoo.

“Everyone was gushing over him,” says Andrew James, spokesman for the nonprofit San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, which oversees the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

The newborn has been named Kaja, in honor of an island in Kalimantan, Borneo, where orangutans are rehabilitated before being released into the wild.

Their numbers have declined, largely due to illegal wildlife trafficking and habitat loss, which increases contact with humans.

Kaja is the first orangutan born at the zoo since 2014, when Indah gave birth to his sister, Aisha, also fathered by Satu.

Kaja’s birth was difficult. Indah suffered complications that prompted zoo veterinary staff to reach out to local neonatal anesthesiologists and ob-gyn specialists.

She is reported to be recuperating well. Health specialists are closely monitoring Indah and her newborn.

“We will continue to stay vigilant and, at the same time, remain hopeful,” noted Meg Sutherland-Smith, the alliance’s head of veterinary services, in the birth announcement.

Meanwhile, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, a giraffe calf was born Jan. 17, making it the first giraffe born there in 2022.

“This birth is extra special,” stated the S.D. Zoo Wildlife Alliance announcement, “as the newborn shares its birthday with an extraordinary individual — Betty White — who would have turned 100 today.”

The actress, who died Dec. 31 at age 99, had a huge soft spot for animals. She worked with numerous animal conservation groups over the years, including the S.D. Zoo Wildlife Alliance. The cover of her 2012 book, “Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo,” pictures her with a giraffe.

The Safari Park giraffe was the first baby delivered by mom Zindzhi and was reported to be walking and nursing normally.

Research indicates the world’s giraffe population has decreased by more than 40 percent over the past two decades. The graceful animals number fewer than 100,000 in the wild today.

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Meanwhile, the San Diego Humane Society honored Betty White’s legacy by waiving adoption fees for a week, from Jan. 11 until her birthday. It was the shelter’s version of the national Betty White Challenge.

“Our main goal was to find homes for animals as the best way to honor her legacy,” says spokeswoman Nina Thompson. During that week, 253 adult animals (131 dogs, 77 cats and 45 rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals) found homes. That certainly would have made the actress happy.

One adoptee was a 7-year-old cocker spaniel mix selected by an Escondido mom and her son Jan. 12. They informed the staff that they are naming the dog “Betty” because their last name is White — so the dog will be Betty White.

The shelter also set up an online donation site: sdhumane.org/betty. About 1,900 donations have been received so far, totaling more than $66,000 — about $60,000 of that came in on Jan. 17, which would have been White’s 100th birthday.

The national movement to donate to animal care shelters in Betty White’s memory, #BettyWhiteChallenge, blew up on social media, benefiting many animal welfare nonprofits.

“It was really overwhelming,” says Jessica Gercke, communications director of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe. “We had no idea how many donations would come in. People donated online, via social media and walked in with checks and cash.

“The center took in over $34,000 that one day,” she said, referring to Jan. 17. “It really is a testimony to how beloved Betty White is and was. She made a tremendous impact on the world, and I know she must be looking down smiling.”

In 1989, White had helped Helen Woodward staff create a public service announcement. In 1994, she became the first recipient of the center’s Humane Award.

Seven years ago, the facility partnered with White on an NBC special called “Best in Shelter,” with Jill Rappaport, in which White helped promote adoption of older pets. The center named a group of senior adoptable dogs after TV’s “Golden Girls.”