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Say Hello to Our Newest (And Cutest) Animal Ambassador

November 17, 2017

Sunday, November 12, was the beginning of  Orangutan Caring Week, a global initiative to raise awareness about the plight of critically endangered orangutans. While we have been hosting an Orangutan Caring Week event at Busch Gardens for the past few years, this year we have another reason to celebrate: our newest addition! As you may have heard, we recently welcomed a healthy baby boy into our orangutan family.

Luna Kissing Baby Orangutan at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Busch Gardens participates in the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a managed breeding program for orangutans in accredited zoos. An SSP is kind of like online dating for endangered species! Because the gene pool is reduced due to the low population of an endangered species, the SSP coordinates diversification of a gene pool. We participate in over 30 SSPs here at Busch Gardens! The main job of an SSP coordinator is to figure out which animals are the best genetic matches. Of course, the animals have the final say in how well those matches have been made! Luna Bela, our 20 year-old bachelorette, said “no” to two different suitors who traveled to meet her! Her most recent match was with a younger guy, Madju, a goofy redhead who traveled all the way from the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand to meet her. Luna and Madju hit it off immediately! Their playful personalities meshed perfectly, and it wasn’t long before we learned Luna was expecting!

As thrilled as we were, there was one major question on all of our minds: How would Luna be as a mother? Our team lovingly refers to her as “Precious Princess Luna,” as she is certainly the most spoiled of our family. Luna loves to be doted on and receive attention. We wondered how she would handle suddenly having some serious competition for cutest face in the orangutan house! Compounding our concern was the fact that Luna was not raised by her own mother, which often affects the success of a new mom. We spent a lot of time training Luna how to nurse a baby and how to hold a baby so we could give it a bottle if needed. Ultimately, though, we knew it would be up to Luna, and we extensively prepared for the event that she decided against raising her own infant.

Baby Orangutan Sleeping at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Much to our delight, it was immediately apparent that Luna had every intention of caring for her baby! She hugged him close, kissed his head, and frequently lay on her back with his chin resting on her nose, staring at his face. Luna wasn’t entirely sure about how to nurse the baby at first, but with some gentle coaching from the team, she quickly figured it out. She has become very proud of him, and seems to enjoy bringing him over to show us! Watching Luna interact with her baby is nothing short of heartwarming. She often sits gazing into his face or holding his hand in hers. She has surpassed our expectations and is a phenomenal mother.

I feel truly privileged to have been a part of this experience. I feel so lucky to be able to see and interact with orangutans every day, especially considering how endangered these apes are. Orangutans are expected to be extinct in the wild in 10 years. That’s right, 10 years. The main threat to orangutans is unsustainable palm oil production. Forests are cut and burned down to make room for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is found in almost everything we use, and about 50% of what you find in the grocery store contains this ingredient. There are sustainable ways to produce palm oil, but how do you tell the difference? You can actually use your smart phone! Simply search “palm oil” in the app store on your phone, and download one of the free sustainable shopping apps, which will help you determine which products are orangutan-friendly. When you shop orangutan-friendly, you are also helping out tigers, Asian rhino species, Asian elephants, gibbons, and more! It’s a simple way that you can help orangutans just by doing something you already do!

Luna Smiling at Baby Orangutan at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Did you know that visiting our parks also supports our SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund? Through the Fund, we support many conservation projects helping many different endangered species, including orangutans. So, come meet our newest addition and support wildlife conservation at the same time! We are so excited for you to meet him!