November 11 through 17 is International Orangutan Caring Week (OCW). OCW’s mission is to build a "critical mass of concerned voices" each November to focus attention on the species through individual efforts. Rainforests and related ecosystems provide important services from climate moderation, to water quality and erosion control, to storehouses of genetic, species and ecological biodiversity. Rainforests need to be sustainably managed to maintain these services. OCW wants to inform citizens in communities across the world of this connection and continue to enlighten local people in areas near orangutan habitats.
During this year’s Orangutan Caring Week, the OKC Zoo is profiling the Sumatran orangutans who make their home at the Great EscApe habitat: Negara, Elok and Toba. Meet Elok:
Elok is an 18-year-old male Sumatran orangutan who arrived at the OKC Zoo in 2008 from the Houston Zoo. His transfer was a Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
Caretakers say Elok is remarkably intelligent and uses his smarts for both good and (occasionally) trouble. He loves puzzles, playing enriching games on his iPad and taking things apart. When staff constructed a new enrichment feeder using a large barrel with a crate mounted inside with bolts and washers, they arrived the next day to find the unit completely disassembled and Elok holding the bolts and washers.
After months of behavioral training, Elok became the first ape at the Zoo to participate in voluntary blood draws. This is an important tool veterinary staff use to monitor his health. Plus, he enjoys the special attention and treats involved with the training.
Elok's favorite foods include spinach, grapes and durian fruit. Durian fruit is grown in the same areas native to orangutans and is an extra special treat.
Zoo guests are likely to find Elok in the Great EscApe habitat dayroom in his favorite hammock or sitting at the window interacting with visitors, especially kids.
Sumatran orangutans are considered critically endangered in the wild. Globally, 60 percent of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75 percent have declining populations. This condition exists due extensive habitat loss, increased bushmeat hunting and illegal trade. The Zoo is playing an increasingly critical role in saving wildlife, including orangutans. In 2016, the Zoo partnered with Rainforest Trust to buy and protect over 200,000 acres of forest in Sumatra, which provides habitat for orangutans and is the only reintroduction site for orangutans in the area.
If you are interested in helping wild orangutans, you can do so by becoming a ZOOfriends member. Membership dollars are used to fund the Zoo’s major conservation efforts. Also, at any gift shop or food stand, you can ask to “Round Up for Conservation” which simply rounds up your total amount to the nearest dollar. Since 2011, Round Up for Conservation program generated more than $350,000, a portion of which helped fund the purchase of the rainforest acreage in central Sumatra. Your “small” amount of change is combined into a conservation fund that helps the Zoo donate to different causes around the world.Another way to help orangutans is to download Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's Palm Oil Shopping Guide mobile application, available for Android and iPhone users. This mobile app helps individuals at the grocery store to make orangutan-friendly choices by purchasing products made from sustainable palm oil with the scan of a bar code!
By: Pace Frank, Great EscApe animal caretaker
Photos by: Andrea Johnson