Nickname: Baby Girl
Gender: Female
Age: Born 6-24-2004
Place of Birth: Saint Louis Zoo
Personality Type: Still in Development

Who is Rubih?

The Saint Louis Zoo was so excited about the birth of an orangutan baby and we couldn’t help ourselves but want the infant to be a girl. Sugriwa was eight years old, a mama’s boy, and we felt our orangutan family would be complete with a little baby girl. On June 29, 2004, we got our wish. Merah gave birth around lunchtime to a tiny orange bundle. We didn’t know at first if it was a boy or a girl, but we knew the baby was healthy and nursing. Merah is a wonderful mother, so we felt confident that the baby was in the best hands, her mother’s hands. However, we hadn’t necessarily counted on Sugriwa’s attitude towards the new baby, a rival for his mother’s affection. He wasn’t mean to the baby, but because he pestered Merah constantly, we decided to separate him until the baby was a little older.

Merah found a wonderful, newly created hiding place in her recently renovated indoor exhibit. There she made a huge nest and, over the next week, barely brought the baby out. Merah only emerged for food, leaving us to wait expectantly, hoping for a glimpse of the infant. Within a few days our few glimpses permitted us to determine that Merah had given birth to a little girl. We were overjoyed and totally captivated by the fuzzy orange baby whom Merah clearly adored. We were actually a bit surprised that Merah kept Rubih so hidden since we remembered that Merah had been very willing to show Sugriwa off when he was an infant. It seemed that she wanted this baby all to herself. And what a beautiful baby she was! Wide, blue-brown eyes, blondish red hair sticking out everywhere, perfect little pink hands and feet, and a soft, bluish sheen to her skin, typical of Sumatran orangutans. Merah watched Rubih almost constantly, obviously as enchanted as we were.

Sometimes, when Rubih fussed -- which really didn’t seem that often -- Merah would gently put one of her fingers in Rubih’s mouth, like a pacifier. It worked, too. Little Rubih would settle down, content to suck on her mother’s finger, staring out at the brand new world with wonder in her eyes.

Once Rubih was a couple of months old, Merah was more comfortable showing her off. Rubih was still a little beauty, and her hair was getting longer too, giving her the wild appearance common to baby orangutans. Her eyes darkened and before we knew it, two little teeth starting coming in on the bottom front of her mouth, making her cuter than ever. She was four-and-a-half months old the day keepers first saw her successfully climb a rope. For orangutans, who are largely arboreal, the first climb is akin to a human baby’s first steps. For days we had watched Rubih attempt to grasp the rope and hoist her tiny little body up the rope before she triumphed. She had fierce determination and will that far outweighed her baby size. Infant orangutans are very small; weighing no more than several pounds at birth, with large heads, and long arms and legs relative to their torso. At around 3 months of age, these proportions were very pronounced in Rubih, making her seem like a little orange spider as she clambered around. Rubih climbed much better than she crawled or stood, and this is still true as she approaches her first birthday.

Eager to Explore

Her personality became more pronounced, as she progressed from a completely helpless infant to an active orangutan baby, eager to explore. Like human babies, everything goes into her mouth first for a taste, including dirt, rocks and sticks. Rubih especially seems to appreciate the variety of foliage and textures in the yard. And like all babies, she has a need to chew as she teethes. Once she got her first four incisors, the remainder of her baby teeth came in pretty quickly. Using Merah’s finger as a teething ring, she would happily gnaw away.

Around six months of age, Rubih became very interested in the foods Merah was eating and would vigorously try to grab pieces from her mother to taste. Merah had already been sharing chewed bits and pieces with her but now Rubih was ready to hold it and eat it by herself. Sometimes she would have a whole chunk of banana or apple, barely able to grasp it in her small hands but nevertheless determined to eat like her mother. Rubih took tiny bites, sometimes dropping the food, but always persisting with this new and rewarding skill.

Learning From Mom

Baby orangutans emulate their mothers’ behavior, learning all the practical skills they need in order to take care of themselves as adults. Watching Rubih observe and attempt to imitate Merah’s behavior is fascinating. Another habit she is picking up is Merah’s habit of scratching her back on a wall. Rubih started doing this outside, rubbing her back up against rocks in the same way as Merah. We have to wonder if Merah’s own mother taught her about this nice way to scratch hard to reach places?

It’s delightful, amazing and somehow comforting to watch Rubih grow, knowing her mother as well as we do, and also knowing the personality of her grandmother. Nonja, Merah’s mother, resides at Miami Metrozoo, and at 52 years old, is the oldest orangutan in the United States. She is apparently every bit as feisty, strong-willed and calculating as her only surviving child, Merah. From what we have observed so far, it appears that Rubih will have much in common with her mother and maternal grandmother.