Red Ape Reserve to open

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Much-anticipated new habitat for orangs and gibbons to open Labor Day weekend

The privacy wall comes down and the celebration begins, as the public gets its first full view of orangutans and white-cheeked gibbons exploring their new home at the Oregon Zoo’s Red Ape Reserve exhibit, Friday, Sept. 3.

The new exhibit brings big changes for the zoo’s orangutans, Inji and Kutai. The space provides them their first opportunity since arriving at the zoo to experience natural substrates, foliage and weather.

“To see 50-year-old Inji and her grandson Kutai constantly exploring their surroundings is a thrill,” said Dave Thomas, the zoo’s senior primate keeper. “And to watch the two gibbons, Phyllis and Duffy, swing through the air just adds to the excitement. I know I speak for many here at the zoo in saying that it is a joy to have these animals outdoors in such an enriching environment. I’m confident the public will feel the same.”

According to Thomas, primate staff could not be more pleased at how well the orangutans and gibbons are interacting with their new exhibit as well as with each other. Keepers have been amazed by how quickly and smoothly the animals have adjusted to their new surroundings. 

“The fact that they are all utilizing the climbing structures of ropes, sway poles and logs is exciting in itself,” Thomas said. “What is even more thrilling is that the orangs and gibbons are getting along as roommates. Many zoos would be envious of such a successful introduction of mixed species. The Red Ape Reserve exhibit puts these animals in an amazing new light.” 

The naturalistic exhibit places visitors in the context of the fragile Southeast Asian habitats that are home to the two species. Visitors have unprecedented opportunities to observe orangutans, indoors and outdoors, exhibiting natural behaviors as they literally climb and swing over visitors’ heads and come nose-to-nose with them at glass viewing windows. It also provides visitors opportunities to actively learn about orangutan conservation.

A massive log tunnel, nearly 60 feet long and 8 feet wide, cuts directly through the exhibit’s outdoor animal area. Orangutans and gibbons are able to climb freely around the log while visitors watch safely from inside. The faux log is made of concrete and carved and painted to look like wood. Lights set inside it illuminate the pathway, while nine porthole windows, 30 inches in diameter and larger, enable visitors to see out the top and sides.

The mesh-enclosed outdoor portion of the exhibit occupies 5,400 square feet, which increases the orangutans exhibit space by more than three and a half times.

Another highlight of the outdoor space is the signature “enrichment tree.” Designed to resemble a massive buttress tree overtaken by a strangler fig, this feature is intended to keep the animals alert, engaged and mentally challenged in their new home. The primates can wander around, searching for food and stimulation, just as they would in the wild.

The new indoor space, occupying 820 square feet, also is designed to provide more behavioral enrichment opportunities than the existing exhibit. The structure of the roof and windows allows the orangutans to use 100 percent of the exhibit’s vertical space, a massive volume full of trees, logs and vines for climbing. A wall of windows creates a visual connection with the adjacent outdoor portion of the exhibit, making the two spaces seem like one. It also allows ample natural light into the indoor space, aided by large skylights overhead.

The primate building, constructed in 1959, has undergone significant renovations the past five years. Following the theme “Fragile Forests,” the zoo has been transforming the building into a state-of-the-art, naturalistic experience for visitors and animals. Red Ape Reserve continues the transformation, becoming the cornerstone exhibit for the Asian wing of the building.