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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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Javan gibbon baby sleeping

Rare Javan Gibbon Born at Zoo

A very rare baby – one of only two born in the United States in the last 12 months – has arrived at the zoo.  A male Javan gibbon was born on April 16 in the Indonesian Rain Forest.

“We are thrilled with the birth,” says Animal Curator Mark Weldon. “Dieng is being a good mother and the baby appears healthy.”

On a visit to the gibbons’ indoor quarters, Dieng, the mother, held her new baby tightly to her chest as she swung gracefully from branch to branch.  The baby had no choice but to hang on tight to Dieng’s furry belly or risk falling to the ground.  But luckily, nature has equipped baby gibbons with a strong grip!

Lionel, the baby’s father, and big brother Jaka, who was born here in March 2011, were more focused on the treats being offered by zoo keeper Kristen Sliger than on the new baby.  “Jaka is curious about his new sibling, but Dieng is also very protective,” she said.  The new arrival does not yet have a name.

For now, the gibbons’ access to the outdoors will be limited to time periods when the temperature is above 60 degrees.  The apes will only be allowed to venture into the overhead chute that connects their indoor quarters to the outdoor exhibit.  “We just want to play it safe and make sure the baby is ready to move into the big exhibit before we give them complete access,” Sliger said. 

Javan gibbons are rare in zoos and in the wild.  Fewer than 4,000 of these gibbons remain on the island of Java, where they are under intense pressure from the island’s burgeoning human population.   Read more about Javan gibbons here.

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