Sumatran orangutan, Kumar, ventures out for first time

January 21, 2015 - 3:16pm

Kumar and another recent arrival, Bob, will join old-timer Inji at Red Ape Reserve

Kumar, the 9-year-old male orangutan who arrived at the Oregon Zoo in November, has moved into his new digs at Red Ape Reserve, and this week he began exploring the outdoor portion of the habitat for the first time — climbing on logs, finding food items hidden among the tall grass, and enjoying afternoon sun.

Kumar also had his first face-to-face meetings with Red Ape's other resident orang, Inji, who at 55 is one of the oldest of her species on the planet. Initial introductions are going very well according to senior primate keeper Asaba Mukobi.

Use Your Reach

Push for deforestation-free palm oil.

The pair first met through a glass barrier, exhibiting friendly behavior and even blowing kisses to each other. Today, as the introduction process continued, Kumar and Inji were able to touch each other through a protective mesh "howdy" barrier.

Later this month, Kumar should have a pal his age to hang around with: Bob, a young male orangutan from South Carolina's Greenville Zoo, who arrived in Portland last month. Bob, who turns 9 on Friday, has nearly completed his quarantine period at the zoo's veterinary medical center.

While Kumar and Inji are both Sumatran orangutans and can interact with each other, Bob is a Bornean orangutan and must be kept separate from Inji because of regulations intended to prevent interspecies breeding. Bob should enjoy plenty of hang time with Kumar though. Keepers expect the two, who are about the same age, will get along well despite being from different species.

Bob's and Kumar's transfers to the Oregon Zoo were recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for orangutans. The AZA has established SSPs for many threatened or endangered species — cooperative programs that help create genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations to guarantee the long-term future of animals. These SSPs also support relevant field projects, research and public education to help prevent animal endangerment and extinction.

"Orangutans are at a really critical point right now in both Bornea and Sumatra," Mukobi said. "The number one threat to their survival is the production of palm oil, which is a common ingredient in everything from candy bars to cosmetics. The good news is that people can urge companies to change the way they produce palm oil in a way that is less harmful to orangutans and other wildlife."

People interested in encouraging major companies to pursue wildlife-friendly palm oil can do so through the Oregon Zoo's Use Your Reach project.

The name "orangutan" comes from the Malay "orang," meaning man, and "hutan," meaning wilderness or jungle. According to Mukobi, many zoo visitors are struck by the orangutans' close resemblance to humans.

"Orangutans share nearly 98 percent of their DNA with humans, and visitors feel a very strong connection to them," Mukobi said. "Building on that connection, we're trying to create awareness about what's happening to orangutans in their native lands and let people know how they can help."

The zoo also supports the Borneo-based Hutan-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Program, which works to research, protect and reduce human-wildlife conflict for species including orangutans and elephants. For more information, visit hutan.org.my.