Not all women possess an innate maternal instinct, but that doesn’t mean they can’t thrive as parents. Various resources are available to support young mothers in their journey of motherhood. It is worth noting that, unlike humans, animals that lack this instinct must be taught how to care for their offspring.
Zoe, an orangutan, didn’t immediately develop maternal instincts.
When she couldn’t nurse her first baby and had to rely on human assistance for its upbringing, zookeepers knew they had to take swift action to ensure Zoe could provide for her second newborn. Seeking aid, they approached Whitlee Turner, a zookeeper who had recently become a mother herself, to see if she would be willing to assist in teaching Zoe how to breastfeed.
Without hesitation, Whitlee accepted the task. She and her baby Caleb arrived at the orangutan indoor house shortly after Zoe gave birth. This request was extraordinary, but Whitlee gladly embraced it.
Zoe had never learned how to be a mother since she was orphaned at just 9 months old after her own mother’s demise. Whitlee was excited to share her breastfeeding knowledge with Zoe and was determined to help her fulfill her motherly potential.
Learning from a human mother
Zoe began her educational journey. “I just had my breastfeeding bra and was able to show her everything with zero modesty,” Whitlee shared. “I wanted her to be able to see the whole process because orangutans don’t wear shirts. I wanted her to see my breasts and see Caleb and to be able to see him rooting and hungry. She could see where the baby was supposed to be held.”
Whitlee conversed with Zoe, drawing attention to the baby and her breasts. When Caleb latched on, Whitlee made sure Zoe observed this crucial step. Although Zoe initially displayed curiosity and observed the demonstration with interest, it took another day for her to successfully breastfeed her own baby.
The zookeepers went above and beyond to assist Zoe in learning motherhood. They even installed a TV in her enclosure, playing videos on a loop that depicted orangutans giving birth and caring for their infants. This enabled Zoe to observe and learn from the behaviors of other orangutan mothers.
The incredible bond between Whitlee and Zoe exemplifies the significance of nurturing and caring for captive animals. With the unwavering dedication of zookeepers, unexpected challenges can be conquered, and an animal’s natural instincts can be fostered and nurtured.
Zoe’s accomplishment in breastfeeding her baby serves as a testament to the power of compassion, understanding, and the bond that can form between different species. It serves as a heartwarming reminder that we can all learn from one another, regardless of our dissimilarities.
View this post on Instagram
Preview Image Credit: Metro Richmond Zoo / Facebook