Swing into Action: OKC Zoo Celebrates Orangutan Caring Week

This week we are celebrating Orangutan Caring Week at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, and we want you to get to know the Zoo’s orangutan pair, as well as learn all about what it takes to care for and conserve their species! Our two resident Sumatran orangutans, Elok and Negara, tend to be guest favorites, as they are easy to distinguish from one another and have an abundance of personality.

Elok, the Zoo’s 21-year old male, is easily recognizable because of his large size and cheek pads. Elok is an extremely observant and intelligent individual. He often surprises his caretakers with his ingenuity when presented with different enrichment activities. Enrichment is anything that we, as caretakers, can add into the orangutans’ environment that they find mentally or physically stimulating, or encourages natural behaviors. In addition to being a fantastic problem solver, Elok is also a very skilled nest builder and utilizes an abundance of materials, such as wood wool, blankets, boxes, paper towels and other materials his caretakers provide nightly for him to make his bed.

Negara, the Zoo’s 27-year old female Sumatran orangutan, tends to take a more naturalistic approach to nest building, occasionally creating her nest out of sticks and grasses. Negara enjoys spending time outside, and on most days, can be found on the climbing structure - watching guests pass by with the best view in the Zoo! It shouldn’t come as a surprise that she enjoys spending her time up high because orangutans are almost exclusively arboreal, making them the largest tree-dwelling animals in the world! It may sound exhausting to swing from tree-to-tree all day but orangutans have many adaptations that make living in the trees a breeze! For example, orangutans have a long arm span and hook-like hands that allow them to brachiate, a form of locomotion that orangutans use, through the trees with ease. Elok and Negara can access the trees within their outdoor habitat and are seen there frequently by guests, especially in the spring and summer months when there are elm leaves available to them.

Although Elok and Negara like to spend time separately, they also enjoy spending time with one another and caretakers often see them sitting in close proximity to one another, playing together and participating in grooming sessions.  

Orangutans are incredibly intelligent, wonderfully perceptive and delightfully fun creatures that are in dire need of people to CARE about the dangers they’re facing in the wild. Unfortunately, all three species of orangutans are classified as critically endangered in the wild, with the latest estimate for the Sumatran population being as low as 15,000 individuals. Orangutans face many obstacles in the wild, such as deforestation and habitat fragmentation from illegal logging, forest fires, and most notably the rapidly expanding palm oil industry. However, by doing our part to make small changes, as well as inspiring others to care for orangutans, we can slow this process and protect the place these amazing creatures call home.

In 2016, funds from the Zoo’s Round Up For Conservation program were used to help purchase and protect over 200,000 acres of forest in central Sumatra through a partnership with the Rainforest Trust. This newly created protected area provides critical habitat for Sumatran orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants and many other species.

You can help orangutans by visiting your local AZA-accredited zoo, participating in the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation program when making purchases at the Zoo, continuing to learn and share about orangutans, and by making orangutan friendly purchases by shopping for sustainable palm oil options.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established to create a network of partners that are committed to sustainable palm oil production, as well as raise awareness and create resources for the public to make sustainable purchasing decisions.

There are many ways that you can support RSPO-certified organizations. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s (CMZ) Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping App is an effective way to help conserve habitat for endangered species by ensuring that you are buying products made with certified sustainable palm oil. This mobile shopping guide, available for Apple and Android devices, consists of an easy-to-use search function and barcode scanner that enables users to scan their favorite products and learn if the companies are RSPO certified. If the product is not certified, we ask that you choose an alternative product that is certified to product wildlife. To download or learn more about CMZ’s Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping App, click here.

Together, we can protect orangutan habitat and conserve their species. Happy Orangutan Caring Week from the Zoo’s primate care team!

- Emily S., primate caretaker

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