orangutans fort wayne zoo

First Photos! – Baby Asmara Explores Her Exhibit

Asmara, a 16-week old Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, went into Orangutan Valley for the first time last week. Until now, Asmara and her mother, Tara, have been living in an off-exhibit bedroom adjacent to the main exhibit.

On their first day in the exhibit, Asmara clung tightly to her mother as Tara explored high up in the trees.  Zoo keeper Angie Selzer watched nervously, buy all went well. “Tara climbed very high right away, but Asmara clung tightly just like she would in the wild,” she said.

Prior to the big day, the exhibit underwent extensive baby-proofing.  Zoo keepers covered the floor with soft straw and checked the trees, walls, and vines for potential safety issues.  The City of Fort Wayne’s tree crews even got involved, helping to reinforce the vines and hammocks.

Will you get to see Tara and Asmara when the zoo opens on April 25?  Zoo keepers are working toward that goal. Indonesian Rain Forest area manager Tanisha Dunbar explained, “The goal is to mix all four of our orangutans behind-the-scenes, and once they’re comfortable, we’ll let them all go out on exhibit together,” said Dunbar.  “And they always have a choice.  They can choose whether or not to go out each morning, although Tara’s never been one to stay behind-the-scenes.”

Born on November 22 to Tara and her mate, Tengku, Asmara is important to the future of Sumatran orangutans, which are Critically Endangered.  About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and an average of 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos. In the wild, these red-furred apes are found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where the population is in drastic decline due to illegal hunting and the destruction of their forest homes to build palm oil plantations.

Fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. Some experts predict orangutans could become extinct in the wild within a few decades if circumstances remain unchanged.

Zoo babies are sponsored by Lutheran Children’s Hospital.  Click on the photos to enlarge:

Fort Wayne Children's Zoo orangutan

Tara the Orangutan is Pregnant

Tara, a Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, is expecting a baby this fall. This is the first pregnancy for 19-year-old Tara, and the baby would be the second orangutan ever born at the zoo.

“We’re excited about Tara’s pregnancy and the chance to add to the population of this critically endangered species,” says Zoo Animal Curator Mark Weldon.

The baby is due sometime from mid-November to early December.  The father is Tengku, the zoo’s 28-year-old male orangutan, who arrived in Fort Wayne from Zoo Atlanta in 1995.  Orangutans are pregnant for an average of 245 days, or a little over eight months.

Tara came to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo in April 2013 from the Columbus Zoo in Ohio and was introduced to Tengku and Melati, a 29-year-old female orangutan, about a month after arriving.  Zoo keepers regularly monitor Tara’s hormonal cycles and after changes were noted in her cycle this spring, zoo keepers used a human pregnancy test kit to confirm the pregnancy. (Certain brands of over-the-counter tests are known to react accurately with orangutan hormones.)

The breeding of Tara with Tengku was recommended by the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that seeks to maintain genetic diversity within populations of endangered animals.  About 320 Sumatran orangutans live in zoos worldwide, and only about 15 babies are born each year in the world’s zoos.  These red-furred apes are found only on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, where the population is in drastic decline due to illegal hunting and the destruction of their forest homes to build palm oil plantations.

At age 19, “Tara is the perfect age for breeding,” says Zoo Keeper Angie Selzer, who cares for the orangutans.   However, Tara has never given birth, nor has she lived with another female who has delivered a baby. As a result, Tara may not know how to raise an infant.  “Orangutans learn by watching others,” says Weldon.  “If Tara’s never observed maternal behavior, she may not know how to take care of a baby.”

To address any potential issues with the birth, zoo keepers have prepared an extensive Birth Management Plan.  Using a plush stuffed toy and operant conditioning, Tara has been trained to bring her “baby” to keepers who will bottle-feed it if Tara fails to nurse.  Tara has also been trained to present her nipple to keepers to nurse her baby, in the event that keepers must provide daily care for the infant.

In 2006, female orangutan Sayang delivered the first orangutan ever born at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.  Just one hour after giving birth to a healthy male infant, Sayang collapsed and died unexpectedly from a blood clot in her lungs.

The baby, named Dumadi, was cared for around the clock by zoo keepers until he was eight months old.  He moved to Zoo Atlanta in 2007, where he was fostered by Madu, an experienced mother, and integrated in to the zoo’s orangutan group.  Orangutans have the longest childhood of any animal other than humans, and require maternal care until they are six to eight years old.


Tiger Twins Turn Two!

Indah and Bugara, our Sumatran tiger siblings, turn two years old this week!

“These tigers are very popular,” says Indonesian Rain Forest Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar of the two cats, who arrived this winter from the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas.

Though they are twins, the tigers have different birthdays.   Indah, the female, was born on August 15 and Bugara, the male, was born several hours later on August 16.  We’re planning a small celebration on August 16! 

“Indah is especially interested in people,” says Dunbar.  “If you visit first thing in the morning, she’ll follow kids from window to window.”  Bugara is the more laid-back of the two cats.  “He is not as focused as his sister,” Dunbar says.  “His attention span is pretty short!”

Bugara is the larger of the two cats, weighing 254 pounds.  Indah weighs 204 pounds.  Aside from the size difference, it’s easy to tell the two cats apart because the tip of Bugara’s left ear is missing.  On Indah, look for the three black stripes above each eye that look like oversized “eyelashes.”

Because their mother did not properly care for them, Indah and Bugara were hand-reared by Cameron Park Zoo staff, which is partly why they are so interested in people.  Hand-reared cats are typically not good candidates for breeding, so Bugara has been neutered.   This allows us to exhibit the cats together even after they reach breeding age.

Sumatran tigers are critically endangered on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which is their only wild home.  Their native forests are being destroyed to build unsustainable palm oil plantations. 

YOU CAN HELP!  Because palm oil is in thousands of everyday products, it’s hard to avoid, but you can support companies that buy only sustainably-grown palm oil.  Download a free app to help you make eco-friendly shopping choices that help tigers, orangutans, and other rain forest animals.

Learn more about Sumatran tigers.

Watch a  video of Indah and Bugara’s first day in Tiger Forest this spring.

Click on each photo to enlarge.


Tengku orangutan wearing hard hat

6 Things You Never Knew About Orangutans

With the spotlight on Tara, our new orangutan, we’re sharing some orangutan insights this week!

1. Orangutans are lazy
It’s true – even wild orangutans sleep late and take lots of naps.  Because they are so intelligent, they know exactly which trees are fruiting.  They’ll go directly to the food source, eat, then rest.  No need to wander the forest all day searching for a meal! 

2. Orangutans make their beds
In the wild, orangutans arrange leaves and branches to make a comfy nest.  Check out this video of Tengku, our male orangutan, making a nest out of blankets and shredded paper.   

3. Orangutans are tree-dwellers
Wild orangutans rarely descend to the ground, and the same is true at the zoo.  The artificial trees and vines in Orangutan Valley allow our orangutans to move just as they would in the forest.   Tengku shows how it’s done in the video below. 

4. Orangutans use umbrellas
In the rain forest, orangutans hold big leaves above their heads when it rains.  At the zoo, our orangutans put blankets, hats, and paper bags on their heads.

5. Orangutans aren’t monkeys
Along with gorillas, chimpanzees, and gibbons, orangutans belong to the group of primates called apes.  Apes have bigger brains and are generally larger than monkeys.  The easiest way to tell them apart:  monkeys have tails, apes don’t.

6. Orangutans need our help
Found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, orangutans are in trouble.  Sumatran orangutan populations have declined up to 80% since the 1950s, mainly because their habitat is being destroyed.  You can help by shopping responsibly for products that contain palm oil, which is grown in Sumatra and is found in many everyday products. Get a free mobile app to help with your shopping choices. 

Learn more about orangutans

Meet Tara, the zoo’s newest orangutan!

Click on the photos below to enlarge.

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.

Click on the images below to enlarge.


Bugara sumatran tiger

A Sneak Peek at our New Tigers

Sumatran tigers Indah and Bugara arrived at the zoo in February, and on Wednesday, zoo keepers allowed the cats to explore Tiger Forest for the first time in preparation for the zoo’s opening day on Saturday.  Read about the cats’ arrival from the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco, Texas here.

Zoo staff members gathered to see how the one-and-a-half-year-old brother and sister would react to their new surroundings.  Indah was the first to walk the long chute that connects the indoor holding to the wooded outdoor exhibit.  “Indah was much braver than her brother,” said Indonesian Rain Forest Area Manager Tanisha Dunbar.  “She definitely took more risks.”

Once in the exhibit, Indah immediately investigated the pond, viewing windows, and every tree trunk.  Meanwhile, Bugara was more cautious.  “He was startled by the construction that was going on nearby,” said Dunbar.  Once he entered the exhibit, Bugara instantly walked to the small viewing window to check out the staff members who had assembled to watch.

After a few minutes, Bugara relaxed a bit, but that’s when the action began.  Indah began stalking her brother at every opportunity, crouching behind logs and springing out to chase him.  A few times, both cats leaped at each other with all eight feet leaving the ground!  Bugara eventually wised up and began looking behind himself every few minutes to make sure Indah wasn’t following him.

Indah and Bugara are amazing representatives of this critically endangered species.  Fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild, making zoo cats increasingly important for the survival of the species.  Read more about Sumatran tigers here.

Click on the photos below to enlarge to full screen.