Orangutan learns how to nurse from breastfeeding zookeeper

When Zoe the oranguan needed help breastfeeding, Metro Richmond Zoo staff were determined to teach her how to nurse successfully.
Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 10:16 AM CDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT/Gray News) – Staff members at Metro Richmond Zoo were determined to teach Zoe the orangutan how to nurse successfully when she needed help breastfeeding.

Zoe’s first baby, Taavi, had to be hand-raised after she failed to nurse him and hold him properly, the zoo said.

When Zoe delivered her second baby in December, Metro Richmond Zoo contacted Whitlee Turner, a zookeeper and a new mom.

“Whitlee was asked to breastfeed her own baby Caleb in front of Zoe in hopes that Zoe would learn from a live demonstration,” the zoo said on its website. “Whitlee agreed to help, and she and her son arrived at the orangutan’s indoor house soon after Zoe gave birth.”

Turner says she 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 says Zoe was watching “curiously” the entire time.

Then, just less than 24 hours later, Zoe nursed her baby for the first time.

Prior to Turner’s help, Zoe’s caretakers had set up a TV so she could watch videos of orangutan mothers caring for their young.

Jessica Gring, a lead zookeeper, also showed Zoe how to hold and nurse a baby using a stuffed animal.

“Zoe and her unnamed baby boy are healthy and bonding well,” the zoo said. “They can be seen at the zoo daily from the Safari Train Ride. The zoo is grateful to our dedicated and creative professionals who are committed to helping Zoe.”