KEEPERS at a British zoo were taken by surprise after one of their orangutans gave birth — despite a recent pregnancy test coming back negative.
Chester Zoo welcomed the new arrival of a critically endangered Bornean orangutan after mum Leia unexpectedly gave birth in June.
The attraction has now released the first images of doting mother cradling her tiny new arrival in a set of adorable photographs.
Keepers say the youngster is ‘bright and alert’ and suckling well from mum who is incredibly protective of her baby, meaning the gender has not been determined yet.
Orangutans are typically pregnant for 259 days — eight and a half months — but Leia had undergone a pregnancy test just weeks before, which came back negative.
Bornean orangutans are critically endangered and face a high risk of extinction in the wild and it is hoped the birth offers fresh hope of saving the great apes.
Chris Yarwood, a primate keeper at the zoo, said: ‘The pregnancy tests we had carried out on Leia in the months prior to the birth had actually returned negative results.
‘It was therefore a wonderful surprise to arrive one morning to see her protectively cradling a beautiful new arrival.
‘Leia enjoys spending lots of time alone with her baby and has so far been quite shy about showing it off.
‘She always keeps it really close to her and so we’ve not yet been able to clearly determine what the gender of the infant is.
‘What we are sure of though is that the baby is bright, alert and suckling well from mum and has developed well over the last couple of months.
‘This is Leia’s second baby — she’s a great mum and is doing a fab job once again.
‘Chester is one of the few zoos in Europe that cares for both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.
‘These are critically endangered animals and, importantly, we’ve seen babies from both sub-species born in recent times.
‘It just goes to show that, despite all of the uncertainty in the world right now, life is carrying on as normal for the orangutans, which is really uplifting to see.’
Dr Nick Davis, the zoo’s deputy curator of mammals, added: ‘Bornean orangutans are the largest arboreal mammals in the world and how fast their numbers are plummeting is frightening.
‘They are victims of illegal hunting and habitat loss and are highly threatened by the unsustainable palm oil industry, which is having a devastating effect on the forests where they live.
‘These magnificent animals are being pushed to the very edge of existence and it really could be the case that we soon lose them forever.
‘It’s absolutely vital therefore that there’s a sustainable population of Bornean orangutans in the world’s progressive zoos — every addition to the European endangered species breeding programme is so, so important.’
Bornean orangutans are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered in the wild.
Threatened by illegal hunting, habitat destruction and the conversion of their forest to palm oil plantations, the species has been pushed to the very brink of existence.
Recent estimates suggest as few as 55,000 Bornean orangutans may remain on the island of Borneo in Indonesia — the only place they can be found in the wild.
With this huge decline in the population, the group of orangutans at Chester Zoo are part of a breeding programme which is working to conserve the species.
Dr Davis added ‘There’s still a huge need to tackle the excessive deforestation in Borneo and show people everywhere that they can make a difference to the long-term survival of orangutans.
‘We really hope that Leia’s new baby helps to further highlight how simple everyday choices, like choosing products which contain only sustainably sourced palm oil, can have a massive impact on the future of these remarkable animals.’