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About Author: Tanya Howard

Posts by Tanya Howard

28

Orangutan Aisha is One!

We hope Aisha and her mother have a wonderful birthday celebration!

We hope Aisha and her mother have a wonderful birthday celebration!

The past year has flown by! Our little orangutan Aisha is celebrating her first birthday on Saturday, October 25, 2014, at the San Diego Zoo. Aisha’s growing confidence is evident every day. She is very active on exhibit now, climbing and hanging around the tree structures. We even see her move away from Indah to a different tree to play. A few months ago her personality really became apparent. She plays with the enrichment in her room by throwing it up in the air, forages just like her mom, Indah, practices nest building, and eats everything she can get her little hands on.

Orangutan babies grow very slowly. Aisha weighs only about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) and will be considered a baby for 4 years. Even though she has 12 teeth now and eats solid food from her mom’s diet, she will continue to nurse that entire time. There continues to be little interaction between Aisha and the other orangutans.

We will be celebrating Aisha’s birthday with extra enrichment for the whole group: painted boxes, gourds, treats, and more. Since Aisha is still staying on Mom when they are on the ground, Aisha will have to wait until Indah gets the treats and shares with her! Stop by the exhibit first thing Saturday morning to see everyone enjoying Aisha’s birthday, or watch the action on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan: 10 Teeth and Counting.

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Orangutan: 10 Teeth and Counting!

Aisha knows Mom Indah is never far.

Aisha knows Mom Indah is never far.

It seems that orangutan youngster Aisha is getting a new tooth every two weeks! At almost nine months old, she now has a mouth full of teeth and is putting them to use. All day long Aisha is finding food and trying it out. On exhibit she tries the leaves on branches, lettuce, and anything else she can get away from her mom. Indah has gotten better about sharing her food with Aisha; she is even letting Aisha have a couple of pieces of her fruit in the morning. When inside, Aisha tries all of Indah’s food, even the biscuits. Yet with all this food exploration, Aisha’s primary source of food is from nursing.

Aisha can often been seen climbing on the ropes and hammocks in the exhibit, spending an increased time off of Mom. There are times when Aisha wants to climb, but Indah won’t allow her. Yet there are occasions when Indah prefers Aisha to climb rather than hang on her, but Aisha won’t let go. Sounds familiar, right moms? Aisha still spends most of her time on exhibit hanging onto Indah, so you might need to spend some time at the exhibit to see Aisha climbing and hanging around.

Inside the orangutan bedrooms, if Aisha is awake, she is off and running. Well, not running exactly, but she doesn’t stay idle for long. She is climbing and moving all around her bedrooms. Indah is now comfortable enough that she does not immediately pick up Aisha when we come into the building. Aisha is curious about people and will come over to the bars and reach out to us if we have something that she wants or is curious about. While Aisha is off Mom a lot, she still will not leave her or go anywhere without her.

I often get asked when we will be putting the siamangs and Indah and Aisha together. At this time, we do not want to rush the process and have not yet set a date for introductions. If we put them together too soon, we run the risk of Unkie, the male siamang, being aggressive and potentially hurting Aisha or causing Indah undo stress. We want to avoid any negative interaction. It is best to wait until Aisha is more mobile and Indah is confident in Aisha’s safety. This is still months away from any consideration.

I truly appreciate everyone’s support for our orangutans, and with your support, we can help save this species for future generations.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

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Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

Satu sits slightly down with a piece of burlap over his head; Indah lies in a hammock completely covered by burlap, and Karen has a burlap bag clutched in her foot as she does somersaults in front of the glass. What’s up with the burlap? Burlap is one of the enrichment items we give the orangutans on exhibit. If you have spent anytime at the San Diego Zoo, you probably have heard of enrichment. Enrichment basically refers to anything given to the animals that will increase their activity both physically and mentally.

When animals are on exhibit, we are limited to items that are natural in appearance, and with orangutans, we are limited further to items that are “orangutan proof.” Orangutans are intelligent, strong, and creative animals. Great care has to be given so that individuals cannot hurt themselves, destroy the items, or, more likely, use the item as a tool for mischief.

In addition to the burlap, pinecones, gourds, bamboo, browse, and palm fronds are enrichment items we commonly use on exhibit. We try to give them items that will encourage natural behaviors. Orangutans are arboreal mammals from the rain forest. They use branches and large fronds to protect themselves from the rain and sun. We give them burlap, browse, and palm fronds to mimic this behavior. We put treats and smears in and on the pinecones, gourds, and bamboo to encourage foraging behaviors and tool use. We have a simulated termite mound in the exhibit, which, of course, does not contain ants or termites but different sauces. It is not so important what is in the termite mound but that they use tools to extract what they want out of it.

Tool use is a learned behavior passed from mother to offspring. We saw Indah actively teaching Cinta to use the termite mound, and it will be great to see her do the same with her newest baby, Aisha. Different groups have different tool use methods, and even individuals have a preference when it comes to extracting the enrichment. When we give bamboo cups with gelatin inside, Satu likes to use his strong jaws and teeth to just break it open, Cinta would pound it on rocks and knock out the gelatin, while Karen uses a small stick to get the good stuff.

You will also notice when you look at the exhibit that there are large, plastic items hung on ropes. While they are not natural looking, they fulfill the other requirement: they are orangutan proof. We use these as permanent enrichment items in the exhibit. In addition to the animals using them to swing and play with, we also put food items inside periodically. As a result, the orangutans check them every day. This increases their activity level, but it also mimics a natural behavior. Orangutans have a mental map of the rain forest: where the fruiting trees are located, and what is edible. They remember where they found food in the past and return to it later.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months.

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Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months

What fun to watch Aisha grow!

What fun to watch Aisha grow!

The past five months have gone by so fast! Little orangutan Aisha is growing by leaps and bounds. I forget how small she actually was until I see a picture of her first day outside. Indah continues to be a great mother. She seems even more relaxed with Aisha than she did with Cinta, her first offspring.

The last few weeks have seen an increase in Aisha’s activity level on exhibit. Typically, Indah is active and moving around the exhibit first thing in the morning, and by 11a.m., she finds a comfortable perch in the climbing structure and relaxes for the rest of her time on exhibit, with Aisha hanging on her. Lately, we have seen Aisha off of Mom on the climbing structure and hammocks—it’s so exciting! At first, Indah’s hand was right there, and she was very vigilant. Now, Indah will be a few feet away, sometimes with her back to Aisha, and one time Indah even left the tree and went to the ground for a few minutes! It is amazing to see Aisha on her own, so interested in her surroundings.

Mom and baby are still going inside at 1p.m. so the siamangs can go on exhibit. It will be a while before we are comfortable introducing the baby to the siamangs. Because of male siamang Unkie’s previous behavior with Cinta, we do not want to try this too early, as it could result in unnecessary stress to Indah and Aisha or possibly injury.

When inside, Indah is even more relaxed. At a very young age Indah would put Aisha down in the bedroom and let her explore. It varies greatly between individual mothers when they break that mother-child contact for the first time. Literature has the range as early as 2 months and as late as 18 months. Indah was definitely on the low end of the range! She feels very safe in her bedroom and knows that there is no threat to Aisha inside. In her bedroom, Aisha climbs up the bars and across the ropes and back again. She is very active, but sometimes she just wants to be on Mom. We have a camera system set up in the bedroom, and this has really allowed us to see behaviors between Mom and baby and to see early development that we would not have seen if we were standing there watching. Indah typically is more protective if there are people present and usually will grab Aisha and hold her until people leave the area.

Aisha still does not have any teeth, but she is tasting everything, and everything goes into her mouth. She eats lettuce and would probably eat or try to eat other foods, but Indah is not good with sharing. The majority of Aisha’s nutrition is from nursing.

I get asked a lot how much Aisha weighs. Even though Indah lets Aisha climb and move around, she would never leave Aisha and move to another area without her. We can get weights anytime on Mom and baby together.

It will be great to see Aisha grow and change in the coming months. Every day I am excited to get to work and see all the cute stuff she does. Everything she does is cute!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Personalities.

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Orangutan Personalities

Janey bonds with a young Zoo guest.

Janey bonds with a young Zoo guest.

Ever wonder about the personalities of the orangutans and siamangs you watch on Ape Cam? Wonder no more! Here’s a quick guide to help you tell “who’s who.”

Janey is the oldest animal in the exhibit. At approximately 52 years old, her hair is thinning on her back and shoulders, and her toes are curled up (it is painful for her to straighten them out). You may see her crutch-walking on exhibit. She is on medications, due to her age, for pain and gut mobility. She is our only Borean orangutan, born in the wild around 1962. She remains interested in “human items” due to the fact that she was hand raised and in private hands for the first half of her life. Her favorite spots in the exhibit are at the exhibit glass and in her zen/sun spot down the hill. She gets along with everyone in the group. But do not let her old age fool you! She lets her feelings be known, and she stands her ground.

Karen was born at the Zoo on June 11, 1992, and was hand raised. She survived a widely publicized open-heart surgery in 1994. Karen is very short and round (a no-neck girl!). Her hair is shorter than Janey and Indah’s, and her eyes are yellow. She has a LOT of personality, is very stubborn and willful but remains a keeper and guest favorite. Karen likes to twirl around on the sturdy bamboo poles in the exhibit. She also likes to roll around instead of walking when out there (she will and can walk, but chooses not to!).

Indah likes to sit in the far right (east) climbing structure. She rarely comes down to the ground, and then only to get food and be at the popular man-made termite mound to grab a snack. Indah is the pretty one of the group with long, flowing hair and a large bump in the middle of her forehead. She is very slow to warm up to new people, but she likes the siamangs and shares her food with them occasionally (an unusual behavior in the primate world!). She was a very doting mother to little Aisha, born in 2013.

Satu is our lone male orangutan and is Aisha’s father. He was born on March 26, 1995. His cheek pads and dreadlocks filled out once his father, Clyde, moved to another zoo. Satu has a sweet disposition and can usually be seen slightly down the hill in a bed of pappas grass. He is quite playful and often plays with the two siamangs that share the exhibit.

Aisha is our newest orangutan, born on October 25, 2013, to mother Indah. So far, her mother is doing a great job of caring for her, and little Aisha is skilled at clinging to Mom’s chest as the pair travel up poles and across the ropes. What fun we’ll have watching her grow!

Of our two siamangs, Unkie is much leaner than Eloise and his face is more angular. Siamangs pair bond for the life of their mate, and Unkie and Ellie have been together since 1987 and can often be heard singing duets.

Unkie, born on October 19, 1983, is usually the instigator with the orangutans; he likes to steal their food, pull on their hair, and swat at them. Eloise, born on April 17, 1981, has a visible belly and a bare chest. There is a discolored line of hair down the middle of her back. She has had five offspring with Unkie. The siamangs both are very sweet, not too aggressive to people or their orangutan roommates.

Now that you know a bit more about them, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy watching all the action on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post,

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An Orangutan is Born!

Our photographer's patience is finally rewarded as Indah brings her baby outside.

Our photographer’s patience is finally rewarded as Indah brings her baby outside.

As the day of the orangutan birth drew near, my days as a keeper had fallen into a familiar pattern. After conducting morning health checks on the other animals in my care, I arrived at the orangutan kitchen on Friday, October 25, 2013. I turned the camera monitor on, expecting to see our pregnant orangutan still sleeping. Indah always builds her nest in the front corner of her bedroom and covers herself up with burlap. But today was different: Indah was awake and sitting up. I immediately got excited, as I expected to see a baby orangutan. After a few minutes of scanning the bedroom with the monitor’s camera, I could not see an infant, so I made the decision to go down to the orangutan bedroom area earlier than usual to check on Indah.

All was quiet and normal as I entered the building. When I approached Indah, she came right up to me and was calm. But it was obvious that something was happening. She was constantly moving and climbing around her room. I wondered if this time around she remembered when her son, Cinta, was born and could recall what was happening. Soon, a couple of other keepers joined me, and we contacted the manager and veterinarian staff on duty.

From this point, everything happened very quickly. I knew that with Indah’s first offspring, Cinta, her labor lasted for less than an hour after her water broke. Everything went much faster this time around! The first check on Indah was at 6:30 a.m., and by 7 a.m., her water broke. We thought we were going to have to wait for a while, but she delighted and surprised us by giving birth 15 minutes later!

The baby was alert, and Indah immediately cleaned the infant’s airway. The baby vocalized and clutched onto Indah. Within 30 minutes, the baby was completely dry and cute and as perfect as can be! We were fortunate to be able to determine that she was a little girl. At this point, Indah was very comfortable with us observing her and the baby.

She continues to be a very attentive and caring mother. Any time the baby vocalizes, Indah turns her attention toward her, and the baby quiets right down. Indah had been choosing to remain inside the bedroom area most days to focus on the baby without having to worry about her environment and the other animals. She is given access to the exhibit each morning but does not always choose to go out. Keep your eyes “peeled” for them on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Indah: Think Pink.

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Orangutan Indah: Think Pink

Orangutan IndahSince the day orangutan Cinta went to the St. Louis Zoo, I have been asked on a daily basis “Are we going to have another baby orangutan?” Since the day we got permission from the Species Survival Plan for orangutans and took Indah off her birth control, I have been asked “Is Indah pregnant?” My answer would always be “These things take time. It’s only been a couple months.” Well, I can finally say it; no, yell it: INDAH’S PREGNANT!

Our girl is a real Fertile Myrtle; it seems she got pregnant her first month off birth control! All indicators point to a positive pregnancy. She has a decrease in appetite, an increase in lethargy, and she is very sweet and calm with her keepers. These are behaviors typical of a pregnant orangutan and behaviors she exhibited during her pregnancy with Cinta. Indah tested positive to a urine pregnancy test during her first trimester. Orangutan pregnancies are about 245 days (8.5 months), so we expect the baby to be born in October.

Now, you won’t see many changes with Indah and our management of her. Orangutan babies are only 3.3 to 4.5 pounds (1.5 to 2 kilograms)
 when born, so Indah will not gain much weight. You might be able to see some physical changes, like an increase in belly size and nipple changes. Indah will be staying with the group and be going on exhibit daily during her pregnancy, so look for her on exhibit and on Ape Cam!) We want to keep things as normal and routine as possible for Indah to keep her calm. Her behavior will let us know if we need to make changes to her routine—we let the pregnant lady decide what she wants to do!!

Orangutans can develop health problems much the same as pregnant humans, but the risk is minimal. We will, of course, be keeping a close eye on her health as we do with all the animals. We are very excited about this pregnancy and are looking forward to a little red-headed baby!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans Clyde and Cinta.

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Orangutans Clyde and Cinta

We are so proud of Clyde!

We are so proud of Clyde!

Clyde is doing really great at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure in Salina, Kansas (he moved there in May 2011, see post Changes for Orangutans). Clyde and Rusa continue to get along well. Both animal staff and animals alike love Clyde. He is the only male with whom female Ruse has been paired that she likes! But who wouldn’t like Clyde? He is the sweetest male, and all the girls like him (well, except Indah, of course). There is not any expectation of an offspring from them, though. Rusa has some reproductive issues that would make getting pregnant very difficult. A baby would be a happy surprise. The keeper there was telling me that Clyde is funny about his browse; he is turning his nose up at the Midwest varieties of trees and leaves.

After a few setbacks, Cinta is with all of the orangutans at the St. Louis Zoo (he arrived there in October 2012). Originally, the staff was planning on introducing Cinta to the mother and daughter there, hoping for a successful pairing with the older female. Unfortunately, the females had a different idea! While reevaluating the situation, the staff noticed that Cinta and Robbie, their 19-year-old male, seemed compatible. They were separate from one another but were sharing food back and forth and hanging out near one another. Staff never planned on introducing the two males, but they decided to try and then, later on, Robbie and Cinta could together be reintroduced to the girls.

This has proven to the best of solutions. Cinta and Robbie are now best of friends! They hang out together and share food. Just last week, staff put all four together with a much-improved outcome. ☺ Now, whenever there are any problems, Robbie steps in and defends Cinta (not that Cinta needs much help—he is much faster that the girls! Keepers are very positive about the improvements they have seen and expect things to continue to get better. We will keep our fingers crossed for a successful pairing!

Tanya Howard is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Planned Parenthood.

Here’s a fun video created for our digital ZOONOOZ, available as a free app from the App Store:

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Orangutans: Planned Parenthood

Is Indah ready to become a mother again?

Is Indah ready to become a mother again?

We have just been given the go-ahead by the Species Survival Plan for orangutans (a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to have a baby with San Diego Zoo orangutans Indah and Satu! Indah has been taken off birth control. She was on birth control because we did not want her to become pregnant while raising her son, Cinta. Typically, sons stay with their mother for eight to nine years. Indah had been implanted with a device similar to Norplant in humans, so she needed a trip to the vets to get it removed. Just like with humans, it may take a while for her hormones to balance out. We are hoping that this time next year we will have a pregnancy or may be even a baby!

The siamangs and the orangutans get along for the most part. The assertiveness of the siamangs directed toward the orangutans at feeding times is behavior seen by researchers in the wild. We do see positive interactions with Indah and the siamangs. She shares food with them (and Satu, too!). Also, she has been playing a lot with Unkie, our male siamang, wrestling and wearing him on her head! It is really amazing to watch.

Even though our female orangutans have been hand raised, they are still wild animals. Their behavior is unpredictable, and, as such, we do not go in with any of them. There is plenty of keeper interaction with each individual with a protective barrier between ape and keeper.

Tanya Howard is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Change is Good.

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Orangutans: Change is Good!

This photo of Satu was taken in June.

It has been more than six months since orangutan Clyde left the San Diego Zoo for Kansas, and I am happy to say that things could not be going better both here and in Kansas at Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure! (See Tanya’s previous post, Changes for Orangutans.) After his initial quarantine period, Clyde was introduced to his new exhibit and Rusa, his new, potential “girlfriend.” Both took to each other, and no problems have been observed between them. Previously, Rusa had been paired with younger males, and they were not to her liking. With Clyde, she immediately solicited him, choosing to be close to him (a behavior not seen with her before). In fact, the only issues the keepers there have reported is difficulty is getting them to separate from one another for husbandry needs. It is so great knowing that Clyde is doing so well and that the keepers at his new zoo love him and are taking such great care of him.

Our own introductions with Karen and Satu went with little of the issues we were expecting. Satu was excited to be with Karen and chose to spend nights with her, especially at the beginning. But a lot of the breeding behavior that we were worried about never became an issue. Karen would submit to Satu, and we had little-to-no rough behavior. Karen does have hair loss on her back as a result of her contact with Satu, but since the breeding has decreased in duration and frequency, we expect her hair to grow back in soon.

It was the girls that had to work out their issues. Orangutans are solitary by nature, and females do not interact with each other. With three females on exhibit, they had to work out territory and tolerance for each other. We have noticed an increased use of the exhibit by Indah, and anyone who has spent any time watching the orangutans can tell you that Indah has her favorite spot and tends to stay there. We are very happy about this turn of events, as it lets us know that she is more comfortable in the exhibit without Clyde in the area.

We can already see changes in Satu as he grows into adulthood. His hair is longer, more wavy, and forming dreadlocks. His weight is up (190 pounds or 86 kilograms now!), and his checkpads continue to get larger. He is becoming an adult! Fortunately, he is keeping his same, sweet behavior. He has father Clyde’s disposition. Keep watch at the orangutan and siamang exhibit for more changes to come with Satu.

Tanya Howard is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.