Motherhood is cause for connection across the globe — and not just between humans.
Whitlee Turner, a zookeeper at the Metro Richmond Zoo in Mosley, Virginia, proved that moms of all walks of life show up for one another when she taught Zoe the orangutan how to breastfeed her second son.
In 2021, Zoe had her first son, and she didn’t have innate maternal instincts. Zoo director Jim Andelin told TODAY, “She would hold him sort of like he was a soda can, and never bring him close to her. She refused to nurse. She didn’t even want to look at him.”
When Zoe herself was a young orangutan, she was orphaned. Now 13 years old, Zoe grew up without observing the behaviors primates typically learn from their mothers — which explains her lack of maternal instincts.
Zoe’s caretakers decided to raise her first son themselves to ensure he thrived, and a year later, Zoe became pregnant again. In an effort to teach her some of the behaviors of other orangutan moms, the zookeepers installed a TV in Zoe’s enclosure and played videos on a loop of orangutans giving birth and caring for their babies.
When she birthed her second son at the end of 2022, they learned their efforts had paid off: Zoe immediately began loving on her newborn. However, the orangutan was still averse to breastfeeding.
Turner, a new mom herself, was approached by zoo veterinarian Cheryl Antonucci with a unique request: would she teach Zoe how to nurse?
“She was like, ‘Wait until Caleb is really hungry so that Zoe can see him rooting and looking for the nipple,’” Turner explained to TODAY of her conversation with Antonucci. And that’s exactly what she did. Within 24 hours of the live demonstration she provided for Zoe, the orangutan breastfed her baby for the first time.
Explaining her connection with Zoe, despite being of different species, Turner shared, “I also had trouble breastfeeding. It was stressful in the beginning. It’s a very natural thing, but it doesn’t always come naturally.” She added, “It really does take a village. I feel like moms just always have each other’s backs.”
If you needed a heartwarming reminder that all living beings across the world are connected, consider this exactly that.
Celebrate the beauty of different breastfeeding journeys through these photographs.
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