At the Zoo: Bornean Orangutan
Watching the playfulness of the orangutan family here at the Zoo, one may never guess that their relatives in the wild face an uncertain future. Our family of orangutans spends its days hunting through their exhibit for tasty snacks, wrestling with one another, and building forts out of cardboard boxes and blankets. These activities are very similar to natural behaviors seen in wild orangutans. Although orangutans are usually found alone in the wild, females and their offspring will often come together and socialize when food is present. The young will take this opportunity to play with one another and practice their climbing and swinging skills in the process. Once they have filled up on fruit and the kids are tired from playing, the adult females will build nests out of the leaves and branches of the trees, and they will sleep in these nests, often covering themselves with large leaves. The leaves are used as shields from the sun as well as umbrellas during the frequent downpours that occur in the rainforest. So when you see the orangutans here at the Zoo swinging from ropes or covering themselves with a t-shirt or blanket, you are seeing examples of behaviors similar to that of their wild relatives.
Orangutan females are generally some of the best moms in the animal kingdom. Orangutan infants are completely dependent on their mothers at birth, and are in constant contact with their mothers for the first 6-8 months of their lives. At around the age of 8-9 years old, the offspring will move out of their mother's territory, and will become independent.
“DeeDee” is the oldest female orangutan in our group and she is the mother of “RanDee,” the youngest member of the family. “DeeDee” is a calm and patient mother, and she spends lots of time grooming “RanDee.” She is very tolerant of “RanDee's” silly behaviors, and rarely ever appears to be bothered when “RanDee” interferes with her own activities. “Josie,” mother to “Hadiah, has a very different mothering style than “DeeDee.” “Josie” loved spending time with “Hadiah” when “Hadiah” was small, but she encouraged “Hadiah” to become independent at a younger age. Although both “DeeDee” and “Josie” approach motherhood from different angles, they both have raised strong and confident daughters.
“Goyang,” the male orangutan in our group, is still growing up. At age 16, he is just entering adulthood. Unlike female orangutans, males are almost exclusively solitary in the wild. Once they reach independence and leave their mothers as adolescents, they establish and defend territories from other males in the area. Like other orangutans, “Goyang” has developed large cheek pads as he matures. The males with the largest cheek pads tend to be the most successful attracting female orangutans. The cheek pads also serve to amplify the vocalization, known as a long call, which is made by adult males. “Goyang,” who joined the Zoo in 2013, has not started making long calls yet because he has not fully matured. When he does make these calls, it is possible they will be heard more than a mile away. In the wild, such far-reaching calls let the females in the area know that the male is nearby.
About: Bornean Orangutan
Lowland and hilly tropical rain forest.
Weight: 165-220 pounds (males), 70-80 pounds (females).
Height: 3.3-4.6 feet.
35 years in the wild, 50 years in captivity.
Coarse vegetation, fruits, nuts, tree bark, insects, soil, eggs, and small vertebrates.
Fun Facts: Bornean Orangutan
- Orangutan means 'person of the forest' in the native languages of Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Orangutans share 97% of the same DNA as humans.
- Bornean orangutans use tools in daily activities. For example, they use branches to test water depth and find insects. They also use leaves as umbrellas, sponges, or napkins.
- Orangutans are the only great apes in the world that are from Asia.
- An orangutan’s arms are longer and stronger than its legs.
- Baby orangutans cry, whimper, and smile at their mothers – just like human babies do.
Conservation: Borean Orangutan
Orangutans are teetering on the edge of extinction, due to the destruction of their rainforest home. The islands of Borneo and Sumatra are the only two places in the world where wild orangutans can be found. These islands also provide the perfect climate for growing palm oil plants. The demand for palm oil is huge, and this demand is leading to the rapid destruction of the rainforest, in order to establish large plantations for palm oil production. As the forests are destroyed, the orangutans are forced to move onto the plantations and onto farmlands in search of food. As they leave the protection of their forest home, they become vulnerable to starvation, predation, and poaching. Many of them are killed and babies are often sold into the illegal pet trade. At the current rate, orangutans will likely be extinct in the wild in the next 10 years. However, with our help, there is hope.
Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is proud to participate in efforts to protect and preserve the orangutans and their rainforest home. Each year, the Zoo takes part in MOM-Missing Orangutan Mothers. This campaign, held each Mother's Day, works to raise awareness to the plight of the many orangutan infants that have lost their mothers, due to the development of palm oil plantations. We work with Orangutan Outreach, an organization that raises funds to rescue, rehabilitate, and release orangutans back into the wild. The Zoo also takes part in Orangutan Caring Week, a week in November dedicated to raising awareness of the challenges faced by wild orangutans. It is only with your help that we will be able to save the orangutans.
How You Can Help
Adopt an Animal!
You can help support expert animal care at the Zoo as well as local and global conservation efforts by purchasing a symbolic animal adoption package.
When you become a member of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo you are supporting conservation year-round.
Be a Conservation Leader!
Each of us can help protect the environment, wildlife, and habitats through choices we make in our daily lives. Even small changes can make big positive impacts on the world around us.
- Purchase products that use sustainable palm oil – Palm oil is frequently harvested from the rainforests of Indonesia, which destroys orangutan habitat. Download the app from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to learn about companies that use sustainable palm oil to change this practice.
- Teach friends – Spread the word about palm oil and show others how to look at a product’s ingredients before buying it.
- Support reforestation efforts in your local community and around the world.