Skip to main content

The sweetest story for International Orangutan Day: Wild female adopts orphaned youngster

Posted by Meghan Sawyer, Communications

Felicity (on the right) and Oceane (on the left) rest in a tree. Photo: HUTAN

Today, on International Orangutan Day, we are getting word about something that’s never happened before—and it’s incredible! For the first known time, an orangutan has adopted another orangutan in the wild after the 5-year-old youngster tragically lost her mother. Meet Felicity and Oceane, two orangutans whose relationship proves that sometimes love can defy one’s wildest expectations.

Scientists with Woodland Park Zoo’s conservation partner HUTAN have been observing wild orangutans in Borneo for decades, but had never observed a bond formed like this. Marc Ancrenaz, Scientific Director for HUTAN, watched the relationship blossom between then-14-year-old Felicity and 5-year-old Oceane before his very eyes. Ancrenaz says that after the loss of Oceane’s mother Jenny, it was a silver lining that no one was expecting.

Jenny, seen here in 2012, was the dominant female at the HUTAN study site. Photo: HUTAN

“Jenny was the first wild female orangutan that I met when we created the HUTAN study site in 1998. Over more than 22 years, she led us to discover her forest kingdom and her way of life. In early 2020, Jenny's health deteriorated rapidly, but her 5-year-old daughter Oceane remained very healthy, sometimes even helping her mum break branches to finish her night nest. In July, Jenny took her last breath and passed away peacefully. We were pretty concerned about the chances of Oceane's survival, so we decided to follow Oceane to document what would happen to her.

“Several female orangutans live at our study site, including Felicity, who was about 14 years old at this time. In the forest, we soon realized that Oceane started to follow Felicity around. Felicity had also lost her mum, Juliana, two years before. In the past, Jenny and Juliana would sometimes forage together in the same tree for hours, giving Felicity and Oceane the opportunity to play together for a short time. Maybe thanks to these bonds formed when Oceane was just a baby, Felicity decided not to chase Oceane away when she first approached her.

Felicity and Oceane resting together on a branch. Photo: HUTAN

“The two females kept some distance for the first few weeks, as all unrelated orangutans usually do in the forest. However, over time, we realized that Oceane would spend more and more time close to Felicity and would try to shadow her movements. One day, Felicity grasped Oceane and carried her to cross a gap in the trees. Since then, the two females became inseparable. They share the same nest at night, and very often, Felicity carries Oceane from one tree to the next. Their movements are coordinated, and they keep in constant contact during the day.

A beautiful aerial shot of the HUTAN study site in Kinabatangan. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

“What we are witnessing at the HUTAN study site in Kinabatangan is new. Since Felicity has no baby yet, she may have adopted Oceane to learn about the mother's skills necessary to raise a baby. Although adoption is a known phenomenon with orangutans living under human care, it has never been reported with wild individuals.”

When you visit Woodland Park Zoo, the price of your ticket directly supports wildlife conservation and animal care, and you are helping countless animals just like Oceane and Felicity. HUTAN is one of more than 35 wildlife conservation partners in the Pacific Northwest and around the world that you help Woodland Park Zoo support—so when you visit the zoo, you’re helping ensure a bright future for orangutans, too.

Godek is one of the orangutans who lives at Woodland Park Zoo. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

There are many ways you can help orangutans

Forest-Friendly Groceries
You can protect orangutans and their rainforest habitat by choosing foods and products made by companies committed to certified sustainable palm oil. Find your shopping list here:

Become a ZooParent: Consider adopting an orangutan! Your adoption as a ZooParent comes with an adoption kit (which can include a plush toy) and the proceeds help support conservation programs including the one in HUTAN.

Become a ZooParent today!

Visit Woodland Park Zoo: On International Orangutan Day or any day, remember that a portion of your ticket price or membership fee helps us support places like HUTAN. Our partners on the ground there, are restoring critical habitat corridors for endangered species and are helping meet the needs of people who live in the region. Head to to learn more about how you can support conservation not only in Borneo, but for animals in your own backyard and all over the world.