Journal: Kecil Orangutan

Kecil, a 6-month-old male orangutan, arrived at Brookfield Zoo on June 20 to be introduced to a surrogate mom, Maggie, the zoo’s 53-year-old Bornean orangutan. Kecil was born on January 11, 2014, at Ohio’s Toledo Zoo, but his mom showed little interest in caring for him as did a surrogate mom at Milwaukee County Zoo, where significant bonding was not achieved.


Journal #4: Why Surrogate Moms? Why Maggie?

Overall, orangutans make great moms as they are very nurturing and gentle with their young.  For the first six to eight years, orangutan offspring spend the vast majority of their life very close to their mothers. They nurse from their moms for at least the first three years of their lives until they slowly start to become more independent. This is true for orangutans born both in zoos and in the wild.

In zoos when orangutan moms are not able to care for their young for a variety of reasons, zoo keepers will step in and do everything possible to support mom and infant in hopes that the mom can overcome whatever obstacles she has, so she can care for her infant.

In 1996, Maggie was given a chance to raise an infant in need named Mukah from Lincoln Park Zoo. Much like Kecil, Mukah was born to an orangutan mom who had no interest in caring for her infant. So, Mukah was sent to Brookfield Zoo and was introduced to two other females who had infants of their own. However, none of them accepted him…until it was Maggie’s turn! 

Maggie and Mukah were placed on opposite sides of the same door. The door was opened just enough for Mukah to fit through, but not Maggie. So, she stuck her arm through the opening and waited patiently for Mukah to get enough courage to approach her. All was quiet and peaceful, so the zoo keepers decided to let them be alone for a while. When they returned, Mukah was sitting on Maggie’s lap, and from then on, the two were inseparable for the next six years! Maggie also began producing milk, and Mukah nursed from her just like she was his original mom.

Maggie is calm and laid back. She is also very patient, loves to play, and rarely stirs up trouble. These are some of the qualities that make her an ideal candidate to be a surrogate mom for these young orangutans in need such as Kecil or Mukah.

-The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG entry - August 15, 2014: Kecil climbed up to high shelf by himself. He was content to hang out there for about 10 minutes, but then he began to scream. Maggie rescued him by climbing up and reaching out for him. He calmed as soon as she arrived.

KLOG entry - August 23, 2014: Asked Maggie and Kecil to move from one enclosure to a clean enclosure after cleaning in the morning.  Maggie got close enough to Kecil for him to grab onto her hair and brought him to the door.  She then waited as he went through the door first. Maggie was gently grooming and mouthing Kecil's head in the afternoon.

Maggie & Kecil

Journal #3: Playtime with Kecil

Kecil loves to play! Sometimes he plays with Maggie, and sometimes he plays all by himself. While he has toys and blankets just like toddlers, he also does things that are more specific to orangutan kids - swinging on ropes and climbing up high.


Something that may seem familiar are his blankets. When Kecil first came to Brookfield Zoo, he always had one of his blankets with him, sleeping with them and carrying them around. He liked them so much, that when Maggie wanted to play, she would wave one at him to get his attention. As Kecil gets more comfortable around Maggie, we’re noticing that he doesn’t rely on his blankets as much as he used to. We’ve slowly started to wean him off of them, in the hope that he will turn to Maggie when he needs comforting. So far this has been working well, and Kecil seems to be spending more time with Maggie and less time with his blankets.


Kecil’s other favorite toys are the ropes that hang down in the area that he shares with Maggie. He uses them to swing on, play peek-a-boo with Maggie, and to help him get from one place to another. We are very happy to see that he uses these ropes so much, since swinging is an important, natural behavior for orangutans.

When Kecil arrived at Brookfield Zoo, he only knew how to climb up, but he couldn’t climb back down. Maggie would come to his rescue by sitting under Kecil and letting him grab onto her head to slowly lower him back down to the floor. This happened for several weeks, until one day, Kecil slowly climbed down all by himself. Now he goes up and down throughout the day! Climbing is an important skill for orangutans to master. In the wild, orangutans spend over 90% of their time up in the trees. It’s where they eat, sleep, and play.

- The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG Entry - July 3, 2014: Kecil was seen using Maggie to climb off the front of the enclosure several times today. Maggie chose to sit by Kecil and he seemed to enjoy climbing on her.

KLOG Entry - July 28, 2014: Kecil was seen climbing up to the high shelf. He would not come all the way down for his morning cereal, so he was fed while he clung about 4 ft. off the ground.




Journal Entry #2: Kecil’s Daily Care

A six-month old orangutan infant who is raised by his mother would be getting all of his nutrition from his mother’s milk. Since Kecil is being raised by Maggie, we need to provide him with a proper diet. Our staff nutritionist Jennifer Watts, PhD, has formulated an appropriate diet to insure Kecil is getting all the vitamins, calories and nutrition he needs to grow and thrive. Kecil is on a diet of formula, and infant cereal (oatmeal) mixed with about 1 tablespoon of banana.

Kecil knows to come up to keepers for both his bottle and his cereal and he loves both! Sometimes he is fast asleep for his 3:30 AM and 7:30 AM bottles which are fed to him by our Night Keeper. Maggie wakes him up gently and he holds onto some part of her body, her head or arm as she brings him up to the Night Keeper so Kecil can drink his bottle.

We are offering just one new food item per week to be sure he doesn’t have an allergic reaction to any new diet items. So far he’s tried carrots and applesauce. He seems to be a fan of both these foods. (Next week it will be green beans.) We write a daily report that we use to record all relevant information and use this report to communicate important information to other zoo staff, the vet staff and the nutritionist. It is then archived in his personal records. We call this report a KLOG (which stands for Keeper Log). See below for a few excerpts from the KLOG about little Kecil.

-The Tropic World Asia Keepers

KLOG Entry - July 15, 2014 Kecil drank all his formula from the night keepers last night. Maggie had to wake him for his 3:30 AM bottle but once she woke him up, he drank well. He was observed playing with the new toy we hung up for him frequently today.

KLOG Entry – July 18, 2014 Kecil seems to be teething. He is chewing on everything in sight including Maggie’s fingers and face! Gave him a cool wet cloth to chew on and he sucked and chewed on it for a long time. He eventually lost it in the hay bedding and Maggie found it and traded it to keeper for a treat.

KLOG Entry – July 22, 2014
Maggie somersaulted around the cage a few times, soliciting play from Kecil. He didn't respond to her. Kecil was especially concentrating on working out his legs at this time (doing "squats").


Journal Entry # 1: Welcome, Kecil!

Six-month-old Kecil orangutan has been at Brookfield Zoo for just over a month now. The day he arrived we could hardly contain our excitement! Knowing Maggie so well, we felt certain she would be gentle with him. Maggie went right over to Kecil when they were introduced and touched his head gently with her lips. Kecil took meeting Maggie in stride and they are bonding more every day. Now Maggie does the round the clock work of caring for him and we keepers provide his nutrition. It is unusual for an orangutan to adopt an infant but there are a few special females like Maggie who find room in their lives to care for another’s offspring.

Our primary goal in introducing Kecil and Maggie was to provide a normal upbringing for him. The longer infant orangutans are raised by humans the harder it is for them to interact normally with other orangutans later in life. An unexpected outcome has been the change we are seeing now in Maggie. She is so attentive to Kecil, she watches out for him, plays with him and cuddles with him. It seems to have given her a new purpose in life. We are all thrilled by the progress we see in their relationship every day!

-The Tropic World Asia Keepers