Category Archives: Orangutans

World’s Oldest Orangutan Celebrates 62nd Birthday

PAY-PROD-WORLDS-OLDEST-BORNEAN-ORANGUTAN-CELEBRATES-62ND-BIRTHDAY62 is an age of seniority among all human cultures. It is a time for retirement, a time for grandchildren, and a time for leisure. Most animals will never make it to this age, and in that way humans are unique. However, on occasion there is time to celebrate the rarity of such a long life span in an animal; in this case let’s meet the world’s oldest Bornean Orangutan Gypsy Chan.

Gypsy Chan just celebrated making it to 62 years old at the Tokyo Tama Zoo in Japan. To mark the occasion, the playful grandmother ape shoved her two-year-old grandson’s face into her birthday fruit cake. Who says that age defeats humor?

Bornean Orangutans are highly intelligent creatures who share 97% of their DNA with humans. They typically weigh around 66-220 pounds depending on age and sex. In the wild they normally live about 35-45 years, so this makes Gypsy Chan’s age all the more reason to celebrate. Bornean Orangutans are endangered, with only 54,500 left in the wild.

Gypsy Chan has been a wonderful ambassador for her breed, and is a well-known peacekeeper. She has amazed scientists by breaking up fights between other apes. Orangutans spend most of their time alone in the wild, so this behavior is all the more interesting!

May you continue to go strong in 2017 Gypsy Chan!

An Orangutan Baby Boom!

I was so excited to hear about the birth of two baby orangutans in two months at the Lowry Zoo in Florida, bringing the total number of endangered orangutans at the zoo to seven. These arrivals remind me of the excitement around the orangutan births at our very own Como Zoo in Minnesota and all the hard work the zoo has put into keeping them safe and healthy. Any increase in the number of orangutans is something to be celebrated, whether it is a new birth, an orangutan saved from starvation or poachers or returned home after being smuggled out of its native habitat. Unfortunately these are all very real dangers facing the orangutan on a daily basis.

In order to make as much headway in the protection and expansion of the species as possible, the Tampa Patch reports that the Lowry Zoo is also active in the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan, working to support the conservation of certain endangered animals that are at risk for extinction. The survival plan for the species includes treating the “entire population of animals as a single unit in order to maximize retention of genetic diversity and to promote cooperation among holding institutions to ensure long term survival of the species in supervised care.” It is amazing to see such a long term, cohesive plan in place to help protect and propagate the species.

James Askew Listens for the Call of the Orangutan

A quick scroll through my blog makes it apparent that I care deeply about protecting orangutans. I recently shared a blog by James Askew about the struggles of an orangutan mother in Northern Sumatra. After a little more reading, I learned immediately that Askew and I are (somewhat) alike in our fascination with these remarkable animals.

Askew is so fascinated, in fact, that he’s spent the last year in South East Asia studying the primates in their natural habitats. He’s a PhD candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Southern California Jane Goodall Research Center. At the moment, he’s running field experiments in the jungles of Sumatra. Askew’s overarching goal is to further our understanding of the orangutan’s long call and how it plays a role in intersexual relationships. Put differently, he’s researching how a specific kind of communication influences the social and reproductive relationships between males and females. What’s more, he’s been using some cool technology, like drones, to track the animals and has been charitable enough to share his experiences in a series of blogs.

Askew planned his expedition to span eighteen months and he left sunny Southern California in March last year. That means about six more months of fieldwork remain. His last post introduced some of his speculations about the importance of play for young orangutans. It’s a great read! You can find the complete list of his blogs here. I’m certainly curious to hear how the jungle will treat him over the course of the last leg of his research and I wish him the best of luck!

About Sumatran Orangutans

tang(image via The Guardian)

I am deeply committed to the protection of and education about Sumatran Orangutans, and I wanted to take this time to tell you all a bit about them. “Orangutan” means “person of the forest”, derived from the Malay language. Sumatran orangutans, Pongo abelii, are a critically endangered species with approximately 7,300 individuals worldwide and they are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Indonesia. While they once inhabited the entire island of Sumatra and parts of Java, Sumatran orangutan populations have been decimated by a number of threats including poaching and the illegal pet trade. They are now confined to the northern portion of Sumatra wherein they continue to play a vital role in the broadleaf forest ecosystem.

Zoos and wildlife refuges around the world are working to protect this amazing species, and Sumatran orangutans’ close relative the Bornean orangutans. You, too, can help protect orangutans! The World Wildlife Foundation has a “sponsor an orangutan” program and there are many companies that partner with conservation organizations (link to Orangutan Coffee post here). The easiest way to protect orangutans is through education: tell your friends and family about their endangered status, look for orangutan-safe products, and use social media to spread the conservation message.

Jaya’s a big brother!

Earlier this month, Saint Paul’s Como Zoo announced the birth of a healthy female orangutan.  That makes Jaya an elder sibling!  If you don’t recall, Jaya was born at the Zoo in 2007 to a pair of Sumatran Orangutans named Markisa and Jambu.  He’s been counting birthdays ever since (I was lucky enough to help celebrate his sixth).  Now we’ll have the opportunity to watch him mature into the role of big brother.

orangsCredit:  Como Zoo

Looking back, Jaya’s birth was special because, among other reasons, it was only one of a few successful primate C-sections.  –There’s still just a dozen in recorded history.  However, when Markisa was selected to breed a second time, doctors knew that the infant would have to be similarly delivered.  At the time of this writing, mother and her baby have been reunited at Como and are bonding as expected.  Jaya was handed over to his mother’s care in record time, so there’s no doubt that Markisa can be an excellent caretaker.  Also, we can’t forget to recognize the world-class treatment these primates receive from their human counterparts at Como.

Markisa and the newborn will be reintroduced to Jaya, Jambu and friend Amanda after the two have had enough time to adjust.  While this may take some time, the growing family of orangutans is sure to light up smiles for years to come.


Cautious Optimism for Baby Sumatran Orangutan

In November, the only Sumatran orangutan born in the United States was delivered by Tara, a 19-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The female child, Asmara (which means “love”), is a rare and extremely important addition to a critically endangered population. The baby is Tara’s first child, and zookeepers and staff watched her with “cautious optimism” throughout her pregnancy for a number of reasons. Tara has never seen another orangutan mother a child, so zoo staff prepared a “Birth Management Plan” to teach her how to be a mom. For Tara, though, mothering came naturally: soon after she gave birth, she placed her child in her nest and began breastfeeding her the next day.

zooPhoto via Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

There are two other Sumatran orangutans in captivity in U.S. zoos that are currently pregnant, and every baby born is integral to saving the sub-species of orangutans. It is difficult to mate captive orangutans, ensure that the mother will accept her child, and that the baby will grow up healthy and able to mate with other healthy Sumatran orangutans. There are only approximately 300 Sumatran orangutans in zoos worldwide, and only about a dozen babies born in captivity. Tara’s successful birth and maternal instincts have made a huge impact in global conservation, and she may have more children in the future, depending on how she raises her baby. I’ll be watching the news in April when the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo introduces Asmara to visitors.

A growing family at the Como Zoo

It’s a girl!  Markisa, a 27-year-old Sumatran Orangutan, gave birth to a healthy and adorable infant at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center on January 7th, 2015.  The newborn was delivered via Caesarean section by a team of highly specialized veterinary and medical professionals.  C-sections are uncommon for orangutans.  Como Zoo primate keeper, Megan Elder, explained “that there are only about a dozen recorded within the International Orangutan Studbook that has tracked more than 1,200 births in captivity throughout history.”  Markisa is particularly important because she had undergone the operation successfully before.  After a short recovery, baby and mother have been reunited at Como Zoo and it’s safe to say that this birth marks the beginning of another promising story.

baby oCredit:  Splash News/Como Zoo

A healthy and growing orangutan family is a welcomed development for the species and primate lovers alike.  There are only around 200 orangutans living in US zoos and native populations are struggling against pressures like logging, agriculture and poaching.  The newborn’s birth furthers an Orangutan Species Survival Plan set forth by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).  The plan aims to maintain and ensure the health of orangutans living in zoos across the United States.

I’ve had the pleasure of supporting Como Zoo in the past, and now you can too!  Como has invited the public to help name the new addition through a donation-based vote.  My suggestion, Cinta, which means love in indonesian, has been selected as one of three possible names.  When the voting ends, the name with the highest dollar amount in donations will win—click here to vote for Cinta! Then, join St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman to hear the results at a fun-filled naming celebration on February 16th.  All are welcome!



Kecil Finds a Mom (and Happy World Orangutan Day!)

Johannes Marliem

Kecil and Maggie

Kecil (pronounced ka-cheel) is less than a year old, but has already done his share of moving around and meeting new people. He was born to Yasmin in January at the Toledo Zoo after a difficult delivery. The young Bornean orangutan was neglected by his mother after his birth, and like humans, early maternal care is extremely important for development. Zookeepers are still unsure as to why Kecil’s mom did not want to spend time with her newborn son, despite the fact that she has had children before, but similar situations have happened before.

After having a few false starts, including a failed surrogate situation by MJ at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Kecil has what seems like a permanent home. Maggie is a 53-year-old Bornean orangutan at the Brookfield Zoo that has been a surrogate mom in the past, most recently in 2002. The two seem like an unlikely match, but they have been bonding and Maggie has offered all of the maternal care that a growing orangutan needs. With her help, Kecil will grow up to be well-adjusted, able to relate to his peers, less nervous, and more patient than orangutans that grow up without an adult.

A surrogate orangutan mom is needed every three to five years, but only once has a baby had to move more than once. While Kecil is a special case, he is now receiving the best care from a loving mom that has an amazing history raising children. Maggie carries Kecil up to ledges he can’t yet reach and lets him nibble her food. It is extremely important for Kecil to grow up with an orangutan to which he can relate in order to be socialized properly, and Maggie has taken on the maternal role like no human caregiver ever could. For the next few months, the two will be off exhibit in order to allow Kecil to mature properly, but we hope to see Kecil and Maggie at the end of the year.

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The First Step in Saving a Species

Johannes Marliem

Earlier this year, orangutan conservation reached a new milestone, redefining the way we will view future species preservation. A nonprofit called LEO Zoological Conservation Center is the first to successfully use assisted reproduction to help Maggie, a 22-year-old orangutan, give birth to a healthy baby boy.

Dr. Mark Leondires of Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut is a leader in his field, working in the treatment of infertility in humans. His work with the LEO Zoological Conservation Center has led to the creation of a minimally-invasive procedure that has yielded results just short of miraculous. After one round of natural cycle intrauterine insemination, Maggie was pregnant. This success made her the first orangutan to become pregnant and have a healthy birth using the treatment.

This accomplishment in reproductive science may contribute to overall species stability if the treatment works for other female orangutans in captivity as well as it did for Maggie. Habitat loss in Maggie’s native Sumatra is accelerating; scientists estimate that orangutans could go extinct in less than 30 years if deforestation continues. The pioneering work of Dr. Leondires and the LEO Zoological Conservation Center, in addition to habitat preservation, will ensure the conservation of such an important, beautiful species.

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Drink Coffee, Protect Orangutans

Johannes Marliem

Orangutan conservation is imperative, especially in the face of widespread habitat loss and the illegal pet market. One way that everyone can get involved, regardless of how much extra time and money they have, is coffee. Approximately 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee daily, and 88% of households donated to charity last year. Combining the two in an effort to support orangutan conservation only makes sense. Orang Utan Coffee works to preserve critical habitat for orangutans while producing sustainable, organic, flavorful, and ethically-sourced coffee. Right now the coffee is only available in the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland, but hopefully we will find it soon on shelves and in coffee shops in the United States. To learn more about Orang Utan Coffee, their mission, and their accomplishments, click here.

 I hope you will visit my Facebook page and “like” it, follow me on Twitter or add me to your circles on Google+ for more frequent updates.