Whenever we go to Perth the Zoo is a must see, and one of our favourites is the Orang utans. Perth Zoo is one of the world’s premiere breeding facilities for orang utans and has done a lot of research into keeping them happy and healthy. I used to be a volunteer guide at the zoo, it was fascinating to hear some of the stories about these gorgeous animals. One old lady had moved to the Perth Zoo after living through the Battle of Singapore, she had to be looked after on fireworks nights or she would get distressed by all the explosions and small planes buzzing around. She also used to pull any plants out of her enclosure – after living in a concrete cage for so long she didn’t like them.
- Orang Utans come from South-East Asia but there are now only two species left, the Bornean orang utan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the Sumatran orang utan (Pongo abelii). They are both endangered, but there are only around 6000 Sumatran orang utans left which means it is critically endangered. Their main threat is habitat destruction, especially through illegal logging and clearing for palm oil plantations. This is why many people in Australia are asking for products made with palm oil to be marked, so they can avoid them.
- The name comes from Malaysian and means ‘Man of the Forest.’
- Male Bornean orang utans have large ‘cheek pads’ which grow continuously, they can also get impressive dreadlocks.
- They eat a wide variety of foods including leaves, shoots, insects and eggs but mostly fruit.
- Orang utans spend most of their time in the trees and can be thought of as ‘four-armed.’ On the ground they generally walk on the sides of their hands or fists, but in the trees they can use all four limbs to hang on and move. Their vertebrae are adapted to pressure from any angle and they don’t have a hip ligament so their legs have a much greater range of movement than other apes and humans. They are supreme gymnasts.
- They are solitary and can get quite stressed if they are forced to live together, although they enjoy being able to see each other. Perth Zoo has a series of separate enclosures with large ‘trees’ that the orang utans can play on and see each other.
- In the wild they have large territories, males and females have some overlap. When females are in season they move into the overlapping areas.
- One of the problems great apes have is their extremely slow rate of reproduction. Male babies stay with their mothers for at least 6 years. Females stay longer, because they need to learn how to parent. They will stay with their mother for the next baby and learn how to look after it.
- In the old days babies used to be taken from their mothers and hand raised before going into zoo enclosures. This caused a lot of problems because they didn’t know how to parent when they bred themselves, they had to be taught. Some mothers were so stressed by babies they gave them to the keepers or developed medical conditions and couldn’t breed at all. So today zoos try to keep it as natural as possible and keep the babies with their mothers so they can learn.
- Females become mature at around 12 years and usually take a territory next to their mother. While they don’t interact, they often forage in parallel where they can see each other.
- Like all great apes, orang utans are extremely intelligent. In the wild they are tool users and in zoos they are given puzzles so they don’t get bored. The cage in the photo of the baby above is a puzzle box for them to get food out of.
- There are cultural differences between groups of orang utans. This means they are not acting on instinct but learn and work things out then pass the knowledge on.
- There is a lot of conservation work to save the wild orang utan, including release camps and patrols of the jungle. If you wish to find out more, check out the Australian Orangutan Project or Orangutan Foundation International. You can adopt orang utan babies, donate or learn more about practical things you can do to decrease deforestation.
On our zoo visit we had a little surprise. This is what we first saw:
And then she turned around!
And some footage, unfortunately the lighting means you can’t see colours but they are having a great play. Look how they are just as happy swinging from legs or arms. Notice in the background the tops of the other ‘trees’ sticking out of the enclosures, so all the orang utans can sit up and see each other. Plus a lot of the climbing frames are not fixed but move, more like tree branches.
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