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Celebrating Oregon Zoo moms on this Mother’s Day weekend

Kitra the orangutan is the newest mom at the Oregon Zoo. Her delivery last month was the first orangutan birth at the zoo in 35 years.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Zoo is home to a variety of moms, from first-timers to ones with years of experience.

When Kitra, a 20-year-old Bornean orangutan, delivered her first baby last month, it was an extremely rare birth for the Oregon Zoo and a birth of extreme significance for a species that is critically endangered.

“Orangutans’ interbirth interval is 8 to 9 years,” says Oregon Zoo Primate Curator Kate Gilmore. “You just don’t have orangutan babies very often.”

Kitra’s special delivery on April 13 was the first orangutan birth at the zoo in 35 years. This week, the Oregon Zoo announced the auburn-haired baby's name as Jolene, after the Dolly Parton classic that goes, "Your beauty is beyond compare with flaming locks of auburn hair."

“Because we’re giving Kitra and her baby plenty of room to bond, we were unable to tell if she’d had a boy or a girl until recently,” Gilmore said. “Once we confirmed she was a girl, our keeper team knew right away what they wanted to call her. They’ve been playing the song on repeat ever since!”

It only took Kitra a few days to prove that she had all the makings of a great mom.   

“What we needed to see in the first 72 hours was that she was being attentive to the infant, keeping it warm, holding it closely, not putting it down and walking away,” explains Gilmore, “All babies need to do when they’re born is cling and nurse, and our baby did that right off the bat.  So, we’re thrilled.”

Other moms at the Oregon Zoo  

Across the way from zoo's Primate Forest, you’ll find another zoo mom exploring the African Savana area with her now 3-month-old calf.

Winter the Bontebok gave birth to Tutula back on February 2.

Like Kitra, Winter was also inexperienced when it came to raising a newborn. When she didn’t nurse Tutula right away, the zoo’s animal care staff had to step in with supplemental bottle feedings but they always brought baby back to mom. 

The zoo also has some moms with years of experience under their belts, like Kya the lion.

In 2014, Kya gave birth to 3 cubs. The male cub eventually moved on to the Houston Zoo to lead his own pride there, but his sisters are still part of the Oregon Zoo’s pride. Their 8th birthday is this September.

Credit: KGW
Kya the lion

Another mom at the Oregon Zoo is Tilly the river otter. 

Tilly is a former Zoo Mom of the Year, having raised a handful of her own pups since she first arrived at the zoo in 2009.

“She’s always been a very intense mother but she knows what she’s doing,” said Amy Cutting, the Oregon Zoo interim director of animal care and conversation. 

Credit: KGW

Over the last 3 years, she’s been the adopted Mom to Flora and Hobson, who came to the zoo in 2019 as 3-month-old orphaned pups looking for some motherly guidance.

“I think of it as when you get a new dog and your existing dog teaches the new dog how to behave in ways that you couldn’t,” explains Cutting. “She tells them you’re being too rough, you’re in my face, you need to back off and be more submissive. She’s done a great job adopting animals that weren’t her own and being a mother to them.”