A paternity test at a Swiss zoo for a newborn orangutan revealed some surprising results.
Meet Padma, age 5 months. She was born at Basel Zoo in northwestern Switzerland last August. Her mother, Maja, is 11 years old and part of the zoo’s endangered species program. This means that she’s automatically signed up to bunk with whichever male orangutan has the least similarity to her, genetically speaking.
In order to ensure that every female orang in the zoo gets paired with the least genetically similar male, Basel keeps a DNA sample on file of every orangutan that enters their door either from other zoos or via the birth canal.
It sounds a little upsetting to us, but the zoo is very concerned with maintaining genetic diversity of their orangutan population. Without it, they might start accidentally inbreeding or pass down recessive genes that ecologists would rather they didn’t.
As standard operating procedure at the zoo, Padma got swabbed to get her DNA on file and to ensure they knew who the father was. Obviously, the mother was Maja, but zookeepers don’t keep an eye on their apes 24/7, so they didn’t catch Maja “in the act”, so to speak.
Basel zoo has 9 orangutans in residence separated into three family groups, each with one male, one female, and one infant. Maja and Padma are paired up with Budi, a 14-year-old male orang. Everyone expected the father to be Budi since he shares an enclosure with Maja.
But as it turns out, Budi was not the father after all--it was Vendel, the dominant 18-year-old male in the neighboring enclosure.
Vendel and Maja have been known to interact at the fence bordering their enclosures. As the elderly, dominant male, Vendel has big cheek pads. If you remember King Louie from the most recent live-action version of Disney’s Jungle Book, then you’ve got the right idea.
Anyway, those cheek pads are considered a sign of virility within orangutan culture, and so when Maja went into heat she just couldn’t resist a big ape with even bigger cheek pads. Despite the fact there was a fence in the way, they made it work. Somehow.
This Valentine’s Day, maybe forget that fancy suit and just put on a big ‘ol pair of cheek pads. Drives the ladies wild, or so we hear.
(Source: Basel Zoo)