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County Executive's Office

Vilas Zoo's New Orangutan Celebrates First Birthday

February 01, 2002
Jim Hubing, 266-4733
County Executive

The newest member of the Bornean orangutan family at the Vilas Zoo will celebrate his first birthday on Feb. 7. Named Kawan, meaning “friend” in Indonesian, the little primate has spent the first year of his life in the very competent care of his mother B.B. Kawan’s father Teriang shares an exhibit with B.B. and Kawan, acting as the family’s protectorate. The Zoological Society will host a birthday party for Kawan on Thursday, Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Zookeepers will be on hand to talk with Zoo visitors, and birthday cards will be available for children to make for Kawan. Special primate snacks will be given to all visitors as they leave the exhibit area. “We are extremely fortunate to have this rare species in our zoo,” said Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk. “The zoo staff has done a great job, and it is very gratifying to see the public’s warm response to Kawan.” Kawan and his family represent one of the most endangered species on Earth. Kawan’s conception and birth were carefully planned by Vilas Zoo staff working with the American Zoo & Aquarium Association’s Species Survival Program to ensure continued genetic diversity of the Bornean organgutan. “Kawan has been in perfect health since the day he was born,” said Zoo Director Jim Hubing. “His mother has excellent mothering skills and has taken very good care of him.” Indeed for the first few months of his life, Kawan never left B.B’s arms. Often, when she needed the use of both of her hands, she’d temporarily place the little Kawan on her head. Kawan apparently liked the view from mom’s head because he still spends a lot of time hanging around her neck and sitting on her head. Because the mother-infant bond has been so secure, zookeepers have not weighed Kawan, preferring not to alarm B.B. by trying to take her baby from her. Keepers estimate that Kawan weighs 16 – 20 pounds, and one look at B.B. tells even the most casual visitor that Kawan is nursing steadily. As Kawan has grown, B.B. has allowed him to climb the ropes and trees in their exhibit, although with an arm span of 12’, Kawan is rarely out of B.B.’s reach. In addition to nursing, Kawan now eats grapes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables offered by his mother. Kawan recognizes the keeper staff and has learned to follow his mother’s lead in foraging for fruit treats hidden in the exhibit by the keepers. ###