Tara the orangutan

Tara the Orangutan Now on Exhibit

Tara, the Sumatran orangutan who arrived at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo this spring, is ready to meet the public.  She will be in the orangutan exhibit now through Sunday.

“Tara is amazing,” says zoo keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans.  “She has adapted very well to her new home.”

Tara has not yet been mixed with Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, or Melati, a 28-year-old female, so she will be alone in the exhibit through the weekend.  “We want Tara to become completely comfortable in the exhibit before being mixed with the other orangutans,” Selzer said.  So far, the three orangutans have had limited contact with each other through mesh panels behind the scenes.

“Our next step is to allow Tara to meet Melati face to face,” Selzer says.  That encounter will probably happen in the next few weeks behind the scenes, meaning that there could be days when no orangutans are in the exhibit.  After Tara and Melati get to know each other, Tengku will join them.

Tara, age 18, has a habit of climbing up to the skylights in the orangutan exhibit, so zoo guests will have to look carefully to see the petite red ape this weekend.

Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in April from the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo.  She can be distinguished from the other orangutans by her petite build and darker fur on her face, hands, and feet.

The zoo hopes that Tara and Tengku will someday produce offspring, but it is too early to predict when that might happen.

Sumatran orangutans are a critically endangered species and are managed in zoos by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.  These rare apes are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where their future is threatened by persistent habitat destruction as forests are converted to palm oil plantations, timber concessions, and mining operations. Zoos could prove to be the last stronghold for this species, which some experts predict could become functionally extinct in the wild within 10 to 20 years.

Tara the orangutan

Introducing Tara the Orangutan

Tengku and Melati, the zoo’s Sumatran orangutans, are about to make a new friend:  Tara, a female orangutan, is the newest member of the orangutan family.

“Tara is full of personality,” says zoo keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans.  “We’re thrilled to have her in Fort Wayne.”

Tara arrived in Fort Wayne in April, and, after completing a routine 30-day quarantine period, is getting to know male orangutan Tengku, who turns 27 on July 3, and female Melati, age 28.  Introductions are taking place behind the scenes.  “We first allow the orangutans to see each other through mesh doors,” explains Selzer.  “Only after we are comfortable with their interactions will we let them meet face to face.” 

The introduction process could take a few months, Selzer says, so it could be awhile before zoo guests see Tara in the Orangutan Valley exhibit.  During the introduction period, Tengku and Melati will be allowed to move back and forth between the exhibit and the behind-the-scenes areas where Tara lives, so there could be times when no orangutans are in the exhibit.

Born at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tara is 18 years old, which is middle aged for an orangutan (the median life expectancy for female Sumatran orangutans is 32 years).  She moved to the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo in 2002. Both Tengku and Melati have lived in Fort Wayne since Orangutan Valley opened in 1995 in the Indonesian Rain Forest exhibit.

“Tara is an awesome orangutan,” says Selzer.  “The staff at the Columbus Zoo took excellent care of her.”  Selzer notes that Tara is already trained on several medical behaviors, such as presenting her arm for a blood draw, which make her daily management much more efficient.   

Tara can be distinguished from the other orangutans by her petite build and darker fur on her face, hands, and feet.

Sumatran orangutans are a critically endangered species and are managed in zoos by a Species Survival Plan (SSP), which seeks to maintain genetic diversity in the captive population.  These rare apes are found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where their future is threatened by persistent habitat destruction as forests are converted to palm oil plantations, timber concessions, and mining operations.  Zoos could prove to be the last stronghold for this species, which some experts predict could become functionally extinct in the wild within 10 to 20 years.

Learn how you can help orangutans by making wise purchases of everyday items made with palm oil.

Learn more about Sumatran orangutans.

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Mr. Happy “Rocks”

A few weeks ago, our friends at Pokagon State Park called with a problem:  a 26-year-old Blanding’s turtle named Mr. Happy wasn’t looking so happy.  This turtle, named for the perpetual “smile” on his face, lives at Pokagon’s Nature Center and is a staff and visitor favorite.

Blanding’s turtles are endangered in Indiana, so Mr. Happy is an important ambassador for our state’s wildlife.  In May, Mr. Happy stopped eating and became lethargic. Fred Wooley, Pokagon’s longtime naturalist, called on Zoo Veterinarian Joe Smith for help.

“When Mr. Happy arrived at the zoo, he didn’t look well at all,” said Smith, who quickly determined the cause of Mr. Happy’s dire state:  Mr. Happy had swallowed a very large rock.  The rock was lodged in the turtle’s stomach and completely blocked his digestive tract.  He also had pneumonia, because bits of food had made their way into his lungs.

Using an endoscope (a flexible tube which can be inserted down the throat), a steady hand, and much patience, Smith was able to remove the pesky pebble.  “It took two hours to get the rock out,” Smith said.

With his stomach now freed of the rock, Mr. Happy got right back to business. “He started eating almost immediately after we finished the procedure,” Smith said.

Mr. Happy is back at Pokagon’s Nature Center, basking in the admiration of his many fans.  “People beam when I tell them the story of that turtle,” said Wooley.  “I have to give Dr. Joe and his staff all the credit in the world.”  And the rock?  “We have it pinned above his aquarium,” Wooley said – presumably where the turtle can’t take a bite of it again.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

Our Growing Gibbon Family

The Javan gibbon baby born at the zoo on April 16 is growing more adventuresome by the day, thanks to excellent care by his mother Dieng – and perhaps some encouragement by his rambunctious big brother, two-year-old Jaka.

The male baby, who has not yet been named, spends most of his time clinging to Dieng’s belly, but keepers have noticed more activity lately.  “We’ve seen him reach out to grab a branch once in a while,” said zoo keeper Kristin Sliger.  “But he’s still too little to move around on his own.”

Jaka, on the other hand, is always on the move.  During a recent photo shoot he rarely sat still, preferring to leap and swing among the branches and vines in the tree-filled exhibit in the Indonesian Rain Forest. 

Javan gibbons are rare – so rare that one other United States zoo exhibits this rare species.   When Jaka was born in 2011, he was the first Javan gibbon born in any United States zoo.  Dieng, her mate Lionel, and their two youngsters are the largest group of Javan gibbons in a U.S. zoo.

“We are honored to be one of only two zoos in to exhibit this endangered species,” said Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon.  “With this species, we can make a significant impact on conservation.”

UPDATE July 1, 2013:  The baby has a name!  It’s Kado, which is an Indonesian word meaning “gift.”

Learn more about Javan gibbons.

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