Virginia Zoo’s Bornean orangutan is pregnant; Baby expected this summer

Dara, one of the Zoo’s female orangutans, is pregnant. Dara is 18-years-old and is one of four orangutans at the Virginia Zoo.

NORFOLK, Va. – One of the Virginia Zoo’s orangutans is pregnant!

The Virginia Zoo made the announcement Wednesday morning after first teasing the big surprise on Tuesday.

The lucky mom is 18-year-old Bornean orangutan Dara, who was observed breeding with 14-year-old male Solaris last fall. This will be her first offspring, and the little bundle of joy is due in mid-June to early July.

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for the Zoo to play a vital role in the future of this species,” said Greg Bockheim, Executive Director of the Virginia Zoo. “Bornean orangutan populations have declined by more than 50 percent in the past 60 years due to poaching, the illegal pet trade, human-animal conflict and habitat loss. Plus, orangutans have one of the slowest reproductive rates of all mammals, making this birth tremendously significant,” Bockheim added.

After the breeding took place, zookeepers noticed the physical characteristics of pregnancy becoming apparent in Dara. A human pregnancy test confirmed she was, indeed, expecting.

The Virginia Zoo’s female orangutan Dara is pregnant. The first-time mom is due in mid to late June to early July. From left to right, Virginia Zoo Keepers Nina Russo, Martha Hamilton and Chelsea Swain, Dara the orangutan, Executive Director Greg Bockheim and Lead Asia Keeper Jill Tarrant (holding the positive pregnancy test).

The Zoo says the gestation period of an orangutan is about 245 days (approximately 8 months). Infant orangutans are fully dependent on their mothers for about two years and typically breastfeed for several years beyond that. Offspring tend to remain close to their mothers for up to 10 years or more.

Orangutans are genetically managed by an international committee and consortium of zoos. This program helps to ensure the long-term survivability of the orangutan population in human care.

“Since Dara’s pregnancy was confirmed, we have been working with the Orangutan Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to prepare staff and Dara herself for the infant’s arrival,” said Lisa Thompson, Zoological Manager. “Zoo Keepers have been training Dara using positive reinforcement to prepare her for circumstances she will encounter in motherhood, as well as to help monitor the pregnancy. We are hopeful for a successful pregnancy and that Dara will be a great mother, ” Thompson added.

Both Dara and Solaris will remain on exhibit, weather permitting, until the last few weeks of her pregnancy. At that point, she will have access to both her exhibit and off-exhibit dens.

Visitors may be able to see some behavioral changes in Dara over the next few months, such as nesting, but her outward appearance won’t change like it does with human pregnancies.