What to Expect When We’re Expecting

As we all know, Dara, the Virginia Zoo’s pregnant orangutan, is due at any time now. Zoo staff and fans alike have been becoming more anxious by the day to hear of the arrival of the newborn. While her Keepers are getting prepared for the birth, we wanted to let you know of what to expect once the baby arrives, and answer some of the questions about the pregnancy and birth that we’ve received so far.

How long will she be in labor? Reports on the duration of labor vary from 25 minutes to 4 hours depending on the health and reproductive status of the female, as well as the number of offspring she is carrying (although twinning is rare).

What will happen once Dara gives birth?

Dara currently has access to both the indoor den and outdoor exhibit, but has been spending more time indoors nesting and cooling off, especially with temperatures reaching into the triple digits. Since she has access, Dara may give birth on exhibit or in her indoor den. Regardless, after the baby is born, it will be solely up to her when she wants to venture outdoors again. The main goal is to make sure baby and Dara are healthy, the baby is nursing and developing well, and that mom and baby are bonding. There are several factors that will have to be considered, so there is no set timeline. Ultimately, Dara and the baby will determine when they will be on exhibit.

Is it a boy or a girl? Even though the Zoo staff performed an ultrasound, we do not yet know the baby’s gender. The Keepers or Animal Care Staff will not intervene or separate the baby from Dara for at least the first month, unless an issue arises where the baby needs assistance and veterinary attention. This is why it may take up to a month or more before staff can accurately determine the sex of the baby.

Why so long? It is extremely important to allow a strong bond to form between mom and baby, so staff won’t want to interrupt that process. The Asia Keepers have been training Dara to gently present her future baby up to the mesh of her den so staff can examine the infant or provide supplemental bottle feedings if needed. It will always be up to Dara to make the choice to do that or not. If her Keepers become concerned that the baby is not developing appropriately and/or nursing enough, there could be cause for potentially intervening to provide the baby with any veterinary needs necessary.

When will Solaris, the father, meet the newborn? It’s hard to know when Solaris will meet the baby – the most important thing is for Dara and the baby to develop a strong bond first and for the infant to nurse and develop well. Dara’s comfort level with Solaris nearby after the baby is born and Solaris’ behavior in return will also be factors in when we introduce the three together. Just like all of the things about what to expect, we will just have to wait and see. Dara and the baby’s health and behavior will determine when most of these kinds of milestones will happen.

How long will the baby stay at the Zoo?

The infant is completely dependent on the mother until they are at least two years old, typically nursing for several more years beyond that age. Offspring tend to stay close to their mothers for up to 10 years or more.

We’re just as excited as you and can’t wait to welcome the baby to the Virginia Zoo family! Keep checking our social media for updates on Dara’s pregnancy.