By Kalia Edmonds
The two youngest great apes at Zoo Atlanta may have vastly different stories, but they now have one very important experience in common: Their friends and fans can officially stop referring to them as “baby orangutan” and “baby gorilla.” Pongo, the Sumatran orangutan, has been named by a passionate young lady with a lifelong love of wildlife, and Andi, the western lowland gorilla bears the name of the devoted partner, father and friend behind one of the Zoo’s most prolific scientists and conservationists.
Catherine Carlos, daughter of Atlantan Chris Carlos, enjoyed the honor of naming the 9-week-old male orangutan born on January 10, 2013. Catherine’s avid love of animals prompted her father, a longtime generous supporter of Zoo Atlanta, to surprise her with the opportunity as a gift for her recent 12th birthday. Catherine and her sister, Christina, who also shares this love for animals, visited the Zoo on Saturday, March 16, to see Pongo and to name him. Following extensive personal research, Catherine chose a name with significance for all of Asia’s critically endangered great apes. Her selection is the first word in the scientific name of both orangutan species: Sumatran orangutans, Pongo abelii, and Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus.
Born to Blaze via Caesarean section, 9-week-old Pongo and his mother have shared a story followed by thousands of fans, as Zoo Atlanta animal care professionals continue to work to reunite the pair. Thanks to their dedicated efforts and countless hours of training, Blaze has progressed to holding, carrying, and interacting with her son for several hours a day. Zoo staff is hopeful that Pongo can soon graduate to residing with his mother full-time, although he still relies on bottle-feeding and round-the-clock care.
Born to Lulu on March 14 and recently confirmed to be female, Andi the gorilla was named by Zoo staff in memory of Andy Pachman, the late husband of Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., the Zoo’s Director of Primate Research. Pachman passed away on March 9 following a heroic battle with cancer. The feminine form Andi is a tribute to Pachman’s indomitable spirit, his many years as an irreplaceable member of the Zoo Atlanta family, and his unwavering support of his wife’s career, which has been dedicated to the study and conservation of gorillas. Stoinski has authored or co-authored more than 50 publications on gorilla behavior and conservation and shares a joint appointment as Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which has its global headquarters at Zoo Atlanta.
“Both of these newborn great apes are lights in the lives of the Zoo Atlanta family and invaluable public ambassadors for two critically endangered species. We’re pleased and proud for them to carry names that suggest not only hope for their species, but also meaningful reminders that individuals are capable of enormous positive change for wildlife and their habitats,” said Raymond King, President and CEO. “There are many tireless advocates here at the Zoo, but each of us owes a piece of our power and productivity to the friends and family whose love and support help us to accomplish the remarkable work done here.”
Both species are critically endangered. Now believed to number fewer than 7,000 in the wild, Sumatran orangutan populations have declined drastically in recent years as a result of habitat conversion to palm oil plantations, over-harvesting of timber, and human encroachment. Western lowland gorillas have faced similar declines, and as much as 95 percent of their wild population is believed to have been lost over the last two decades as a result of habitat loss and poaching.
Zoo Atlanta is home to the nation’s largest zoological collections of gorillas and orangutans and is a national center of excellence for the care and study of great apes. Both Blaze and Lulu were recommended to breed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain self-sustaining, genetically diverse great ape populations in accredited North American zoos.
Andi can be seen with her mother on exhibit in The Ford African Rain Forest. This is the same world-class habitat her famous grandfather, the late Willie B., so memorably christened with his first steps into an outdoor environment 25 years ago this year. It’s hoped that Zoo Atlanta members and guests will soon have a chance to meet Pongo. Stay tuned for more news on Blaze and her son. Daily updates are available Monday through Friday on the Orangutan Baby Updates page on www.zooatlanta.org and weekends on Zoo Atlanta’s Facebook page.