NORWALK, Conn. (WTNH) – There has been a significant breakthrough for an endangered species, using a human assisted reproduction method, to help them get pregnant. A female orangutan gave birth to a baby boy, thanks to a familiar procedure many couples choose to undergo.
When couples have a tough time getting pregnant – Intrauterine Insemination, or IUI, is an option for them. It turns out, doctors in Connecticut discovered that holds true for the orangutan. That’s good news for orangutans, which are expected to be extinct in the wild in the next 25 years.
Artie, born on May 20, is the first ever baby orangutan born through IUI. It’s a major breakthrough for wildlife conservation. His mother Maggie gave birth at Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich.
Dr. Mark Leondires of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut led a group of veterinarians and human medical specialists, with a specific mission to save wild orangutans. “How can we transfer either sperms or eggs or embryos, to other zoos across the world in order to help preserve orangutans but also preserve their genetic diversity,” he said.
They did it using IUI, a more natural process of artificial conception. It’s also an alternative for human couples having a tough time getting pregnant.
“You’re taking the male sperm and inserting it past the vagina, past the cervix into the top of the uterus so the top of the uterus then allows a very high concentration of sperm to reach the ovulated egg,” Dr. Leondires said.
Orangutans are built similar to humans but there were challenges.
“The biggest challenge in assisting Maggie to conceive was understanding her cycles,” Dr. Leondires said.
Then there was the question of where to get the sperm? Enter Patrick, the dominant male orangutan in the group.
“He was basically taught, with help, to give us a sperm sample.”
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the day Maggie had Artie, there was an impromptu baby shower. “The other female orangutans in the group actually gave her food, and gave her presents so to speak. One of the female orangutans gave her a piece of clothing.”
Something else they weren’t quite sure would happen — Maggie is breast feeding Artie.
For Dr. Leondires, who specializes in treating infertility in humans, Artie’s birth was beyond his expectations. “I consider it a tremendous privilege to be able to help another species to survive and once you interact with these animals, they have big brown eyes, their smart and beautiful. You realize that they deserve our attention and they deserve a chance.”
The orangutans are endangered basically because of human encroachment of tropical forests.
The hope is that Artie’s birth will also raise awareness of their plight and lead to creating protected zones.