GRANDDAUGHTER OF SINGAPORE ZOO’S FAMED ORANG UTAN AH MENG FOLLOWS IN HER NURTURING FOOTSTEPS

Singapore, 8 March 2012 — This International Women’s Day, Singapore Zoo pays tribute to the fairer sex, albeit not of the two-legged kind. Of particular interest is female Sumatran orang utan Chomel who, following in her famed grandmother Ah Meng’s footsteps, is caring for an orang utan baby that is not her own.

Although a first time mother, Chomel has always shown nurturing qualities. In her younger days, she would often be seen helping the younger orang utans navigate the free-ranging areas with ease, teaching them how to test their weight on the branches before moving ahead. She thus became a natural choice for surrogate mother, when keepers made the decision to remove the baby from her mother Sayang, who was gravely ill. Incidentally, Sayang is Chomel’s aunt, which means Chomel is fostering her cousin.

“When we took the baby away, Chomel was outside Sayang’s den. The baby cried as it had never been away from its mother, and Chomel’s instinct was to immediately reach for her. We cautiously gave the baby to her, and she held her close. That’s when we knew things would be okay,” explained Alagappasamy Chellaiyah, Assistant Director, Zoology, Singapore Zoo.

“Like Ah Meng, after a few days of fostering, Chomel actually started to show more loving care to her foster child. During feeding, if the baby cries, she quickly offers the food she is eating. During interactions with visitors, she happily allows Bino, her own son, to explore on his own while holding the adopted one close to her. This is truly a heartening sight to witness, and it almost feels like Ah Meng is back with us” continued Mr Chellaiyah, who was Ah Meng’s primary caretaker during her residence in the Zoo.

Chomel bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, whose name was synonymous with Singapore Zoo for almost 35 years before she passed on of old age in Feb 2008. Ah Meng too cared for two young orang utans whose mothers were unable to look after them; Anita, a Bornean female still residing here, and a Bornean male called Inoki which now lives in Taiping Zoo, Malaysia.

To mark International Women’s Day the Zoo held a private naming ceremony for the baby, which turns one today. She has been christened Ishta, which means the cherished or desired one.

“International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s and celebrates the achievements of women everywhere. Chomel is certainly one of our inspiring females and Singapore Zoo wanted to pay tribute to her this momentous day. It’s made doubly special as it also happens to be Ishta’s birthday” said Isabel Cheng, Director, Marketing and Communications, Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

Sumatran orang utans are critically endangered and wild populations are said to number fewer than 7,000 individuals. Their Bornean cousins are also considered endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Most recent estimates place their numbers at about 50,000.

Singapore Zoo, home to 26 orang utans, has an excellent worldwide reputation of having the largest group of captive orang utans in a social setting which also features the world’s only free-ranging habitat. It contributes to the conservation of Asia’s only great ape through captive breeding. A total of 37 orang utans have been successfully bred since the Zoo opened in 1973. Of these, some have been sent to various zoos in Malaysia, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka as part of a global exchange program me.

Chomel proudly shows off her babies: Bino, her own son, relaxes on his mother’s right arm, while adopted female Ishta clings comfortably to her left. PHOTO CREDITS: Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Portrait of a loving mother: Chomel, with Bino on her shoulder and Ishta cuddled in her embracing arms. PHOTO CREDIT: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE