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,


Awww: Mother and Daughter Sumatran Orangutans Spend Morning on Exhibit at the San Diego Zoo

Orangutan Indah and babyA two-week-old, female Sumatran orangutan at the San Diego Zoo is cradled by her mother, Indah, who inspects the baby’s hands and fingers. The baby, sporting shaggy, reddish-orange hair in tufts was born with spindly arms, longer than her body, and a natural instinct to hold tightly to her mother.

Indah gave birth to the baby Oct. 25 in her off-exhibit bedroom under the watchful eyes of her keepers. Animal care staff report the little primate is healthy, nursing, and being very well taken care of by her protective and attentive mother. This is the second baby born to Indah, and dad, Satu, who shares the same habitat but takes no role in caring for the youngster.

The baby and her mother can be seen in their exhibit on Orangutan Trail at the San Diego Zoo. They also may be watched on the Zoos Ape cam at www.sandiegozoo.org/apecam.

Orangutans are native to the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. The Sumatran orangutan is critically endangered, with an estimate of less than 7,000 remaining in the wild. Their populations have declined drastically in recent years as a result of habitat conversion to palm oil plantations, over-harvesting of timber and human encroachment.

CONTACT: San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations, 619-685-3291


Three US Zoos Take Leadership Role in Supporting Sustainable Palm Oil Practices

San Diego Zoo Global logoAs part of an effort to encourage sustainable palm oil production, San Diego Zoo Global, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and the Indianapolis Zoo joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and will attend the RSPO conference (RT11) in Indonesia next week. During the conference, the Zoo’s representatives will be involved in strategic planning and reviewing of RSPO criteria for certification. Additionally, they will visit RSPO-certified and non-certified palm oil plantations to further their knowledge of industry sustainable and non-sustainable practices.

“Palm oil is used in more than 50% of the manufactured items we find in the grocery store every day,” said Allison Alberts, Ph.D., chief conservation and research officer for San Diego Zoo Global’s Institute of Conservation Research. “The largest threat to orangutans and other tropical wildlife around the globe is deforestation due to agriculture, primarily the production of palm oil.”

The zoos’ memberships in the RSPO add to a growing movement among zoos to become an active voice in the palm oil crisis. Last month, a resolution was unanimously passed at the 68th annual conference of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) in support of the RSPO and encourages all zoos to promote certified sustainable palm oil.

“The vision of the RSPO — to drive the sustainable palm oil agenda forward to protect our environment, wildlife and communities — is a transformative journey that involves the cooperation of an extensive group of players,” said the RSPO’s secretary-general, Darrel Webber. “We welcome the San Diego, Cheyenne Mountain and Indianapolis zoos, whose combined annual visitors exceed 7.5 million, to the RSPO and look forward to working closely with them in helping to educate the broader community about the need to support the sustainable production of palm oil,” Webber added.

Conservationists point to the increasing challenges faced by wildlife in Asia and particularly to the effect of palm oil production on high profile species like Sumatran and Bornean orangutans.

“The current generation of wild orangutans could well be the last unless we can find workable solutions for the Indonesian economy, its government and the orangutans,” said Rob Shumaker, Ph.D., the Indianapolis Zoo’s vice president of conservation and life sciences and one of the world’s foremost authorities on orangutan cognition. “RSPO and programs focused on the reforestation of orangutan habitat are critically important to saving orangutans in the wild.”

The Indianapolis Zoo will open a $25 million International Orangutan Center in May 2014.

In 2010, nearly 90% of global palm oil production occurred in Malaysia and Indonesia, and more than half of plantations established since 1990 in those two countries have occurred at the expense of natural forest. Species like orangutans depend on the Asian forests for survival. Conservationists estimate that over the last 60 years more than half of all orangutans in these countries have disappeared. The decline of the species is predicted to continue at this rate, primarily because of forest loss.

“By joining the RSPO we are leading by example and are encouraging other North American zoos to make this same commitment,” said Tracey Gazibara, vice president, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. “Together we can raise awareness about the complex issues surrounding palm oil production and fight against extinction of animals and habitats created by unsustainable practices.”

About Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Society was founded in 1926. Today, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, America’s ONLY mountain zoo, offers comprehensive education programs, exciting conservation efforts and truly fantastic animal experiences. It is Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s hope that guests fall in love with animals and nature, and take action to protect them. Of the 224 zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of just nine operating without tax support. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues and donations for funding.

About Indianapolis Zoo
Located in White River State Park downtown, the Indianapolis Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the American Association of Museums as a zoo, aquarium and botanical garden. The mission of the Indianapolis Zoo is to empower people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation.

About Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
The RSPO is a not-for-profit association that brings together stakeholders from all sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, social and developmental NGOs, and environmental and nature conservation NGOs. The RSPO seeks to transform the market to make sustainable palm oil the norm.

About World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA)
World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) is the unifying organization for the world zoo and aquarium community. Our more than 300 members are leading zoos, aquariums, associations, affiliate organizations and corporate partners from around the world. With more than 700 million visitors annually, together we are ‘United for Conservation.’



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.


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:


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.


Primates: Quality Family Time

An orangutan takes a burlap sack enrichment item to be enjoyed from up high.

When I heard about the special Inside Look tour offered during Discovery Days: Absolutely Apes at the San Diego Zoo, it seemed like the perfect “experience gift” for my husband. Even though I work at the Zoo, we enjoy playing “tourist” sometimes…and with behind-the-scenes ape ops, well, it was the ideal Valentine’s gift!

The walking tour took us through Lost Forest (for the first time I didn’t get lost!) and our enthusiastic guide, Kindra, showed us some monkeys along the way and explained the Zoo’s participation in the national Species Survival Plan (SSP) and how we keep the lives of our primates interesting with a variety of enrichment items and husbandry training sessions. For instance, one female spot-nosed guenon is diabetic, and keepers are able to get her into a training chute, turn around, and present her leg or shoulder for an insulin shot. She is rewarded with Craisins.

On our way to the apes, we stopped to speak with Jackie, a keeper of 15 tufted capuchin monkeys. These house cat-sized monkeys are highly intelligent, incredibly dexterous, and can fly through the trees like wind. Speaking to their intellect, they have been described as “chimpanzees in little capuchin suits.” Jackie showed us how the alpha male, Ozzie, likes to trade things with his keeper, slipping twigs and other offerings through the mesh to get a nut from her in return. There’s no denying the capuchin’s clever, problem-solving capabilities!

There are no more than 60 bonobos in zoos in the U.S. and Europe.

Bonobos (formerly called pygmy chimps) are raucous, yet largely peaceable great apes that live in matriarchal groups. Our small tour group was on a platform above the exhibit with longtime bonobo keeper Mike, who shared the ins and outs of bonobo life and what it takes to look after this extraordinary primate.  “Being a bonobo keeper has made me a better dad,” said Mike, “and being a dad has made me a better bonobo keeper.” He proceeded to provide his charges with a “scatter” of food, which generated much vocalizing from the apes. I had never heard their deafening calls when observing them from behind the exhibit glass. Mike has a great deal of respect for the bonobos and shared how they are trained to place their arm through a tube and hold still so keepers can get blood draws or administer medicine when necessary. “In the old days, we had to knock down an animal when we needed a sample or a good look at them,” he said. “Now their lives, and ours, are less stressful thanks to training.”

Our next stop was gorillas. Giddy with excitement, we approached the barn-sized back gate and met keeper April, who ushered us to the gorilla bedroom area, where we peeked from a respectable distance at silverback Maka. I gasped with pleasure at the salty, earthy gorilla scent.  Despite a genetic anomaly that left him a bit smaller than most adult male gorillas, he was an imposing presence. April described the gorilla groups like she was talking about her extended family. There are two gorilla troops at the Zoo and lone male Maka who all take turns out on exhibit. The bedroom areas are spacious and bathed in natural light from several sunroofs.

Frank, our youngest gorilla, is now 3 years old!

April led us up to the roof, where we took in a bird’s-eye view of Paul Donn’s troop. She tossed raisins and broccoli into the exhibit as she “introduced” us to the group. Sweet-faced Imani is one of my all-time favorite gorillas. If I had more hair and was a better knuckle walker, I’m pretty sure we’d be BFF’s. And little Frank is not so little anymore, yet he still sports a white rump patch, the badge of a youngster, and is filling out into a robust little lad. He plays with and copies his mighty father, Paul Donn. I count myself fortunate to share the planet with such noble creatures as gorillas.

We concluded our special great ape tour at the orangutan exhibit, where Janey and company were celebrating her 50th birthday. Though in the wild orangutans would happily live a solitary existence, at the Zoo they seem to enjoy each other and even the lanky, long-armed siamangs that share their exhibit. Their fluid, agile brachiation through the exhibit reminds me how important forests are to more species than I can count, as well as to our closest living relatives, the great apes. This tour has been a glorious glimpse into the rich lives of our simian brethren. Hooray for quality family time!

Karyl Carmignani is a staff writer for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, A Keeper of Cats.

Take an Inside Look tour on your next visit to the Zoo.


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.


Orangutans Inspire Visitors

I must say that Janey and Clyde, the orangutans, have been great conservation ambassadors during our daily keeper talks at the Absolutely Apes exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. Just under a year ago, I began to develop a conservation package that would some day becomepart of a pilot program for the rest of the great ape areas of the Zoo (see Juan’s blog, New Age Orangutan Conservation). Our conservation package includes materials and products that are made of sustainable and/or reused material; these were used as tools to show Zoo visitors options that we, as consumers, have for becoming more eco-friendly at home.

We also display a poster that illustrates an array of products, from cookies to cosmetics, containing palm oil as an ingredient. Deforestation for the production of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia is the Number One threat orangutans face in the wild. With less than 65,000 Sumatran and Borneon orangutans left, it is critical that we help out by simply becoming more conscious consumers. With Janey, Clyde, and the rest of the orangutan family right on the other side of the glass during the presentations, guests walk away with an appreciation and respect for these complex creatures.

The San Diego Zoo will be celebrating Great Ape Awareness Days today through November 16, 2008. There will be six scheduled presentations daily at the orangutan, gorilla, and bonobo exhibits. Each presentation focuses on issues great apes face. Here’s the presentation schedule. We will see you there!

Juan Fernandez is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.