Kecil, a 1-year-old orangutan, will make his public debut Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon at Brookfield Zoo.

Kecil, a 1-year-old orangutan, will make his public debut Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon at Brookfield Zoo.

Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media

Brookfield Zoo baby orangutan set to make public debut

SHARE Brookfield Zoo baby orangutan set to make public debut
SHARE Brookfield Zoo baby orangutan set to make public debut

Like any toddler who’s lost sight of his mom, Kecil the orangutan began to cry Wednesday morning at Brookfield Zoo.

Zoo staff looked on smiling — the whimpering a sign of success: the bond between baby and newly adopted mother is strong.

When Maggie, a 53-year-old orangutan, came around a rocky outcrop, Kecil quieted and scooted over to her.

Kecil will make his public debut Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon. Those hours will remain in place Saturdays and Sundays for a while. Check Brookfield Zoo’s website for updates.

Kecil (pronounced kuh-ChHEEL) was born at a zoo in Toledo, Ohio, 14 months ago, but his mother didn’t take him in.

Zoo officials tried again with another potential mom at the Milwaukee County Zoo. That didn’t work either.

Maggie, a 53-year-old orangutan who has had four kids of her own and is acting as a surrogate, sits near 14-month-old Kecil in their habitat Wednesday at Brookfield Zoo.

Maggie, a 53-year-old orangutan who has had four kids of her own and is acting as a surrogate, sits near 14-month-old Kecil in their habitat Wednesday at Brookfield Zoo.

Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times Media

About 10 months ago, the baby came to Brookfield Zoo to meet Maggie, who’s had four kids of her own and has acted as a surrogate mother once before.

“When they met, she approached him very slowly and she groomed him and he was very receptive to her. He didn’t seem afraid,” said Nava Greenblatt, one of the zoo’s lead primate keepers. “They stayed together that first night and have been sleeping together ever since. Inseparable.”

Brookfield Zoo has a total of six orangutans, but Maggie and Kecil are kept isolated, at least for now. In the wild, a female and her youngsters live away from other orangutans.

“They’re considered semi-solitary,” Greenblatt said. “So he’s in a perfectly natural situation here with just he and Maggie.”

“He’s exploring, and he really loves these vines,” explained Greenblatt, who occasionally interrupted herself with comments like “Oh, that is adorable. Did you see him grab her face?”

A few weeks ago, a fire alarm sounded in the zoo during a fire drill. “Kecil ran to Maggie and cuddled up,” Greenblatt said. “Initially when he would be feeling insecure he would turn to people, and then there was a shift where he would turn to Maggie if he felt insecure. That was a big milestone. He really needs her to learn how to be an orangutan.”

“When he first came here, he could climb up, but he couldn’t climb down,” Greenblatt said. “He’d try, but he couldn’t figure it out. Maggie would climb up and reach, and he would climb down her arm and hold on.”

On Wednesday, Maggie sat nearby as Kecil swung from vines and licked apple sauce that staff had smeared on the trunk of a tree.

“You don’t really see discipline or him misbehaving,” Greenblatt said. “Orangutan mothers just, in general, are patient and great role models for us.”

Maggie is the oldest Bornean orangutan in North America. “She is actually more like a grandmother taking in a grandkid,” Greenblatt said.

Instructed to speak in loud voices, zoo staff have walked through the exhibit in recent weeks to help acclimate Kecil to the noise of chatty visitors who will soon be oohing and aahing.

“Maggie has really done a special thing here by taking Kecil under her wing and being his mother and his grandmother and his protector,” Greenblatt said. “He’s with someone 24 hours a day, and he has someone to cuddle with at night. And she really deserves to be commended for helping this little guy out.”

Kecil, who weighed about 3 pounds at birth, tips the scale at 15 pounds. But he will grow to be between 220 and 250 pounds.

“It’s funny, because his name means “little” in Indonesia,” Greenblatt said.

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