Thursday, 29 November 2007

First sighting of orang utan twins

2007/11/25-New Straits Times

First sighting of orang utan twins By : Jaswinder Kaur

KOTA KINABALU: Holding on tightly to their mother, orang utan twins were spotted at least twice at the Lower Kinabatangan region in eastern Sabah, in what is believed to be the first ever documented sighting of twins in the wild.

Cardiff University wildlife geneticist Dr Benoit Goossens saw the twins clinging to their mother at the banks of the Kinabatangan river on Oct 23.

Several days later, Kinabatangan Orang Utan Conservation Project (KOCP) field assistant Mohd Daisah Kapar, who was out on assignment to monitor primates, saw the mother and her twins at the Resang river, a tributary of the Kinabatangan.Goossens, who has been studying wildlife in Sabah for the past few years, said the babies were probably not more than 6 months old.

"They were of the same size, so that is why I believe that they were twins. The twins looked healthy based on my observation, and their mother was busy eating fruits. They were clinging on to both sides of her chest.

"The interesting thing was that there was another juvenile orang utan with them, maybe about 7 years old. The orang utan actually had three children with her, including her twins. I observed them for about half-an-hour," Goossens told the New Sunday Times.Daisah said he saw a group of tourists in boats admiring what he guessed to be a primate and decided to have a look.

"I looked up and saw the orang utan eating ficus fruit and with two babies of the same size holding on tightly to each side of her and suckling."I observed them for about 30 minutes before the sun set. I regret that I did not have a camera to take pictures of what I saw but I am sure that they were twins.

I had a good look and the babies were of equal size."We tried to track the orang utan again the following days but so far we have not succeeded in finding them." French primatologist Dr Marc Ancrenaz, who is also KOCP co-director, said he conducted a search and found that there were no records of orang utan twins in the wild.

"This could be the first sighting. However, not having any records of orang utan twins in the wild does not mean that it has not happened before. "It may be that orang utans in the wild have had miscarriages when carrying twins, as recorded among three in captivity in zoos and wildlife centres in other parts of the world.

It may also be that one twin died after birth. It is rare to see orang utans giving birth in the wild, so we do not know whether there are twins among them in the wild," he said."Another issue is that an orang utan would have problem holding on to two babies.

The mother needs to move from tree to tree, and she also needs to focus on looking for extra food because she has to produce twice as much milk."In a set of twins observed in captivity, one twin died four weeks after it was born because the mother did not have enough milk, and this was an orang utan that had access to food.

"Unlike other primates, orang utans are solitary animals. They don't have other orang utans to help them take care of an extra baby. If one of the twins has problems holding on to their mother, it could fall, killing it. The mother definitely has a physical problem of holding on to two babies," said Ancrenaz, who has studied orang utans in Sabah with his wife, Dr Isabelle Lackman Ancranaz, for the last decade.

He said based on observations of other primates that had more than one baby, it was safe to assume that an orang utan with twins would not abandon her children.He said of the 626 recorded orang utan pregnancies in captivity, there were only 11 with twins, and these include three pairs that miscarried.

Ancrenaz said orang utans were slow breeders with between seven and eight years passing before it could have another child. Pregnancies last eight-and-a-half months."We estimate that the life span for a female orang utan in the wild is 40 years, and it usually starts producing when it is about 10 to 12 years old.

That means in her lifetime, an orang utan can only produce between four and five children," he said.Surveys have shown that there are about 11,000 orang utans in Sabah. The primate is totally protected under the Sabah Wildlife Conservation Enactment.