A team from Jersey has made a major breakthrough in the study of Sumatran Orangutans - they go through the menopause in much the same way as humans.
Previously, it was thought that females remained fertile throughout their lives. However, veterinary staff from Durrell, working with the Consultant Obstetrician Neil MacLachlan and staff from the hospital, have now proved that actually they go through the menopause at roughly the same age as their human counterparts, underlining the striking similarities between the two species, which share 97.6% of the same DNA.
The breakthrough came when the team were considering further breeding for the 49 year old female Gina, who had already given birth to seven babies. Most notable was that of the male Jaya whose 2004 birth by caesarean section, the first such procedure carried out on an orangutan.
However, during an ultrasound examination, Gina’s endometrium, uterus and vagina unexpectedly displayed tell-tale signs of what – in a human – would indicate a post-menopausal reproductive system.
A further series of blood tests confirmed that Gina is believed to be the world’s first medically-confirmed case of an orangutan that has undergone a menopause.
Mr. MacLachlan said “I suppose that I’m not totally surprised to find that orangutans have a menopause - they really are so very similar to humans. Indeed it looks as if they go through the menopause at a very similar age. Now the orangutans are living longer, we will probably see more in the menopausal state, and this will allow breeding programmes to be better managed. Gina has really been an informative animal and I hope she can now relax a little from being such a wonderful mother.”
The breakthrough is to be featured in a Channel 4 documentary series, Born in the Wild, which airs on Sunday 22nd June at 8pm.
The programme also features footage of the 25 year-old orangutan Dana giving birth to her first surviving baby. This is the most detailed –if not the world’s first – footage of an orangutan birth.
Durrell’s Head Vet, Andrew Routh, said “We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of our collaborative medical colleagues on Jersey. Working with the team at the Wildlife Park we have, together, been able to make huge advances in the reproductive health care and breeding management of these incredible apes.”
Durrell hope that the new findings broadcast in this programme will further compel people to speak up for orangutans, and support their conservation, before they are lost from Earth forever.
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