The lesser ape known as the siamang is the largest of all gibbons, and is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Unkie and Ellie are a siamang couple at the San Diego Zoo who have been together since 1987. In that time, they've produced five healthy female baby siamangs, and Ellie was on contraception for her retirement. But last November, the zoo staff were shocked to find Elllie with a tiny new baby! The hairless offspring was premature, weak, and underweight, and showed signs of a possible spinal anomaly.
While Ellie carried and cuddled her infant 24 hours a day, veterinary staff stood by. They were concerned enough to check the infant again about two weeks later, but intervention wasn’t necessary. To everyone’s relief, any potential problems resolved as the infant developed. Everyone was thrilled to celebrate her two-month milestone, and then see her continue to grow into a strong, healthy youngster. They give all the credit to Ellie’s maternal skills. “It was all Ellie,” says Julie. Keepers named the infant Selamat, and affectionately call her Sela. The name is an especially appropriate Malay word: its most common meaning is “congratulations,” but a lesser-used definition is “survivor.”
As Sela grew, she became friends with a 6-year-old orangutan named Aisha. Although Aisha is many times Sela's size, they play together with joy. Ellie still keeps a close eye on her baby.