PRIMATE conservationists at Chester Zoo have shared the first images of a rare newborn Bornean orangutan.

Born to doting parents Sarikei and Willie, the new baby arrived during the early hours of Thursday, August 31, following an eight-and-a-half-month pregnancy.

Experts say the rare baby is a “positive step in the right direction” for the protection of the highly threatened species.

The world’s authority on the state of nature, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), lists Bornean orangutans as critically endangered in the wild – ranking them as one of the species which requires the highest conservation priority.

The newborn orangutan will join a European-wide conservation breeding programme aiming to bolster the population of the rare primate in conservation zoos.


Chester Zoo has released photos of a rare newborn Bornean orangutan.

Chester Zoo has released photos of a rare newborn Bornean orangutan.


Mark Brayshaw, head of mammals at the zoo, said: “The birth of an animal that’s so rare is always something to celebrate and seeing the new baby in the arms of mum Sarikei is incredibly special. She’s a great mum and has spent the first few days cradling her baby closely, feeding it regularly and building close bonds – all the signs are great so far.

“With the newborn just a few days old we’ve not yet managed to clearly identify if it’s male or female. What’s most important though is that there’s another healthy Bornean orangutan on the planet.

“To have a new addition within the international conservation breeding programme that’s working to safeguard the species’ future, is a hugely positive step in the right direction.”

Rampant habitat destruction has seen the lush rainforests of Borneo cleared for agriculture, logging and unsustainable oil palm plantations. The enormous loss of habitat, coupled with illegal hunting and conflict with farmers when orangutans enter areas where their forest homes once stood, have driven the animals to the very edge of existence.


Chester Zoo has released photos of a rare newborn Bornean orangutan.

Chester Zoo has released photos of a rare newborn Bornean orangutan.


Mike Jordan, animal & plant director at the zoo, added: “The birth of a Bornean orangutan holds an incredible amount of significance for those fighting for this species. The island of Borneo, the only place where these magnificent apes are found, has lost more than 40% of its rainforests since the turn of the millennia. This relentless habitat loss has seen rainforests, and many of the thousands of species living in them, completely disappear with incredible pace.

“Our efforts to protect Bornean orangutans extend far beyond the boundaries of our conservation zoo. We are on the ground in South East Asia, working with in-country partners and NGOs to help tackle the deforestation and palm oil crisis that has engulfed the region. Our work there involves restoring habitats and mitigating human-wildlife conflict, while promoting sustainable initiatives to palm oil farmers such as creating wildlife corridors to allow orangutans the freedom to move through plantations and between forests.

"Back home in the UK we’ve spearheaded a campaign that has seen sustainable palm oil, sourced from accredited farms that are working to benefit wildlife, become the norm in a handful of communities across the country – with more joining the movement all the time.

“Palm oil is found in around 50% of our shopping items here in the UK, so our hope is that Sarikei’s new baby helps us to further highlight how small, simple everyday choices, like purchasing items which contain only sustainably sourced palm oil, can have a substantial impact on the future of thousands of remarkable animals, including Bornean orangutans.”

Chester Zoo has been working with its conservation partners HUTAN protecting wild orangutans in Borneo for more than 20 years. Experts have been carrying out research in the Kinabatangan - home to one of the largest populations of orangutans in the Sabah region of the island - to gain a better understanding of how orangutans are adapting to an increase in oil palm plantations and the new landscapes which they have created.

A team of zoo primatologists has also helped to create special ‘orangutan bridges’ which are designed to connect pockets of fragmented forest and aid orangutans in moving safely between different areas.

Specialists at the zoo also helped develop a new mobile app, named PalmOil Scan, that allows shoppers to scan barcodes and discover which major companies are committed to the sustainable sourcing of palm oil. The app has been rolled out globally and is free to download from the App Store and Google Play Store.