Zoo to ring in holidays with "Presents for Primates"

December 13, 2012 - 11:02am

Chimps and orangutans enjoy holiday-themed enrichment Dec. 22-23

The holidays will come a little early this year for the non-human primates at the Oregon Zoo. Chimpanzees and orangutans will receive food-filled gift boxes and quilts from their Secret Santas — i.e., primate keepers — during the zoo’s annual Presents for Primates, Saturday, Dec. 22 (chimps), and Sunday, Dec. 23 (orangs), at 10:30 a.m.
“Oregon Zoo animals receive enrichment items all year long, but during the holiday season, we have a tradition of giving the primates presents to open,” said Asaba Mukobi, the zoo’s senior primate keeper. “The gifts encourage orangutans and chimpanzees to use their foraging skills — they’ll have to work and think to get the food out of their presents.”

Members of the zoo’s volunteer enrichment team create the festive enrichment items, while keepers and zoo veterinarians plan the contents. In October, volunteers gathered at the zoo to make quilts for primates and other animals. Pockets sewn into the quilts provide places to tuck treats selected by the keepers — most likely include popcorn, cereal, sunflower seeds, raisins and other dried fruit.
“The animals really seem to enjoy it,” Mukobi said. “By wrapping up the packages and hiding treats in the quilt pockets, we’re encouraging natural foraging instincts. After they eat the food, they often wrap the quilts around themselves, or use them for nest-building, which is also a natural behavior.”

In the wild, orangutans and chimpanzees search for food throughout the day, and enrichment items like these gifts challenge them to use their foraging skills. This is the 11th year the primates have received boxed and wrapped food items for the holidays, but providing enrichment is a routine task for zookeepers. The Oregon Zoo is known internationally for its enrichment programs, which encourage natural behaviors and keep animals mentally and physically stimulated. Enrichment is tailored to the needs of specific animals by the zoo’s keepers and volunteer enrichment team.