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New Orangutan Baby at San Diego Zoo Begins to Explore

A baby orangutan was being taught the ropes this week at the San Diego Zoo, where her mother was just beginning to let her 3-month-old daughter explore.

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Mother Indah and baby Aisha play in the ape exhibit at the San Diego Zoo on Jan. 28, 2014.
(Credit: Ina Saliklis/San Diego Zoo)

Aisha, born Oct. 25, is the second baby for Indah, one of several critically endangered great apes on display at the zoo.

The baby was still being kept close by Indah, a zookeeper said Tuesday.

“Indah continues to be a really great mother,” said Tanya Howard, senior keeper at the zoo. “She is very protective when anybody — human or animal — is around her, and she doesn’t let go of the baby, or let anyone touch the baby yet.”

But when Indah and Aisha are alone, the mother lets her baby down to build up strength and gain skills, Howard said.

On Tuesday, Indah taught the baby how to fashion a spoon from a stick to eat banana-flavored baby food hidden by keepers in the ape exhibit, according to a news release from the zoo.

“The baby is doing really well,” Howard said. “We’re already seeing her being a lot more bright and alert and checking out her surroundings a lot more.”

Video provided by the zoo showed Aisha clinging closely to her mother’s hair while Indah hung from ropes and gathered snacks on the exhibit’s floor.

It will be “a while” before Aisha will be able to explore on her own, according to the zoo.

Aisha is the newest addition to the zoo’s group of Sumatran orangutans, of which there are fewer than 7,000 left in the world, Howard said.

The biggest threat against the flame-haired apes are palm oil plantations in the animals’ native Indonesia and Malaysia, which clear-cut rainforest and reduce the wild habitat available to orangutans, she said.

Shortly after Aisha was born, Howard said the birth of a new girl was important because more females are needed in the population of Sumatran orangutans.

Those who can’t make it down to visit the mother-daughter pair at the zoo can try to spot them on the zoo’s Ape Cam.