Above video courtesy of Jim Andelin and the Metro Richmond Zoo
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A zookeeper at the Metro Richmond Zoo helped teach an orangutan how to breastfeed her newborn baby.
According to the zoo, Zoe the orangutan’s first baby had been hand-raised, so when she delivered her second baby — on Dec. 12, 2022 — she needed guidance with breastfeeding.
It was the zoo’s veterinarian who contacted Whitlee Turner — a zookeeper and mother of a newborn herself — to ask if she would breastfeed her baby Caleb in front of Zoe to learn by example.
Turner agreed and she and her son arrived at the orangutan’s indoor enclosure soon after the birth of Zoe’s unnamed baby boy.
“I just had my breastfeeding bra on, and I was able to show [Zoe] everything with zero modesty. I wanted her to be able to see the whole process because orangutans don’t wear shirts. I wanted her to be able to see my breasts and see Caleb and be able to see him rooting and looking for it and the latch,” Turner said. “The whole time she just kept watching me curiously. She didn’t immediately breastfeed her baby, but she was definitely watching the whole time.”
According to the zoo, Zoe nursed her baby for the first time less than 24 hours later.
In addition to Turner’s demonstration, Zoe was shown videos of orangutan mothers giving birth and caring for their young in the months leading up to the birth of her own baby. Jessica Gring, a lead zookeeper, said that she even showed Zoe how to hold and nurse a baby using a stuffed animal orangutan.
“I would have [the stuffed animal] so it was going around my waist and around my neck just like a baby would be clinging on to [Zoe’s] side,” Gring said. “I was able to grab some biscuits on the ground and pretend like I was eating them while I was holding the baby. I was able to show [Zoe] and spread [the stuffed animal’s] legs a little bit and hold them up to the front so [Zoe] would see and check it out. After he was born, [Zoe] immediately came over and did the exact same thing and showed me and let me look at his feet and his body.”
The Metro Richmond Zoo says that Zoe and her baby are healthy and bonding well. They can be seen daily from the Safari Train Ride.
“I had a really hard time in the beginning as a new mom with my breastfeeding journey. [I] required a lot of guidance and help before we really figured it out,” Turner said. “I think it was really special being able to share this with [Zoe] and help her in her journey. Whether it was an orangutan or a human, I just want to be able to help any new mom.”