An orangutan at the Metro Richmond Zoo was struggling to breastfeed. A zookeeper taught her by example.

Posted at 7:58 AM, Apr 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-19 06:59:40-04

MOSELEY, Va. — Being a mom can be hard work for humans and animals. A mom at the Metro Richmond Zoo needed a little help.... and a little education.

Zoey, an orangutan, was having a problem after delivering her second baby.

"She wasn't holding him on her chest," explained zookeeper Whitlee Turner. “And we hadn't noticed him nursing yet. She didn't do a good job nursing her first baby [which we bottle fed]."

It's likely Zoey never learned to be a good mom, because her own mother died unexpectedly when she was only nine months old.

The zoo veterinarian had an idea. A "monkey see monkey do" kind of idea.

She asked Whitlee, a new mom herself, to teach Zoey.

"When I came into the barn, I had zero modesty," described Whitlee. “I wanted her to see everything."

It was an easy decision for Whitlee to help. She’d also had a hard time in the beginning with breastfeeding.

"I wanted to make sure she could see the latch once [my son] was latched on. And I was pointing at him the whole time and pointing at her and her breasts."

It worked.

"Within 24 hours Zoey had breast fed this baby. And ever since then, she's been taking very good care of it."

Whitlee said she can't take all the credit. It was a team effort to teach Zoey how to be a good mom.

"One of our keepers demonstrated with an orangutan stuffed animal, like, this is how you hold them, and they cling on," she said.

Whitlee takes care of a lot of animals at the zoo, but she said she'll always have a closer bond to Zoey after this.

"Having her look me in the eye and look down at what I'm doing. I'm like, she's totally taking this in."

Moms teaching moms. Building bonds. And Building Better Minds.


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