Apes and Monkeys

Apes and Monkeys

9

World Orangutan Day

Today is World Orangutan Day! On this day, organizations around the globe are highlighting the plight of one of our closest living relatives, the tree-dwelling “person of the forest.” These special creatures are not important just because they are large mammals, or because they remind us of ourselves, but also because they are so integrally connected to the forests they inhabit. With more than 500 known plant species encompassed by their diet, this red ape is a significant factor in seed dispersal in the ancient forests of Indonesia and Borneo.

But the forests, and the orangutans that depend on them, are dwindling. Habitat loss is occurring in Southeast Asia at an alarmingly rapid rate, with Indonesia and Malaysia losing more than 6.5 million hectares (more than 25,000 square miles) in the last few decades. As a result of this habitat loss, the two orangutan subspecies are experiencing a steep decline. The Sumatran Orangutan is critically endangered; the IUCN estimates that no more than 7,300 remain in fragmented patches of forest, primarily in Aceh, Indonesia.

Forest loss in orangutan habitat has a number of causal factors: mining operations and tree harvesting for the pulp and paper industry are two of the usual suspects. But one of the most significant reasons for deforestation over the last twenty years was the rampant growth of the palm oil industry. Production of oil palm, an agricultural commodity that grows only in tropical regions, has skyrocketed: between 1990-2010, Indonesia experienced a 600% increase in land dedicated to the crop. To protect and preserve orangutans, and other species dependent on these forests, conservation biologists have been searching for a way to stem the tide of deforestation due to palm oil expansion.

San Diego Zoo Global has joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and has been working with other North American zoos and RSPO stakeholders to strengthen and improve its efforts to move the palm oil industry toward sustainability. Along with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting body for North American zoological institutions, we are exploring ways to ensure the preservation of biodiversity in areas impacted by oil palm.

Today, on World Orangutan Day, the AZA has announced its support for the development of a sustainable palm oil marketplace.  AZA member zoos, including San Diego Zoo Global, collectively educate and entertain 180 million guests each year. That is a significant audience that can help push for change that will “break the link between palm oil and deforestation,” a move necessary to preserve orangutans and other wildlife into the future. As RSPO members, SDZG stands alongside the AZA in recommending that North American consumers help to increase the uptake of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) in our supermarkets. Currently, there is more CSPO produced each year than is purchased for consumer goods. Since CSPO is produced in accordance with sustainable principals and criteria as set forth by the RSPO, orangutans would benefit if demand for CSPO were to rise. You can learn more about CSPO, and the product lines containing it, here.

We have a long way to go to ensure that the beautiful, long-haired “person of the forest” remains in wild places in the future. On World Orangutan Day, we ask you to consider how you might actively participate in efforts to preserve our red-haired cousins by beginning your own journey to sustainability. A good first step? Find ways to modify your habits to include more CSPO in your purchases. Together, we can help secure the forest home for the orangutan, and all its jungle brethren.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

 

19

Orangutan: 10 Teeth and Counting!

Aisha knows Mom Indah is never far.

Aisha knows Mom Indah is never far.

It seems that orangutan youngster Aisha is getting a new tooth every two weeks! At almost nine months old, she now has a mouth full of teeth and is putting them to use. All day long Aisha is finding food and trying it out. On exhibit she tries the leaves on branches, lettuce, and anything else she can get away from her mom. Indah has gotten better about sharing her food with Aisha; she is even letting Aisha have a couple of pieces of her fruit in the morning. When inside, Aisha tries all of Indah’s food, even the biscuits. Yet with all this food exploration, Aisha’s primary source of food is from nursing.

Aisha can often been seen climbing on the ropes and hammocks in the exhibit, spending an increased time off of Mom. There are times when Aisha wants to climb, but Indah won’t allow her. Yet there are occasions when Indah prefers Aisha to climb rather than hang on her, but Aisha won’t let go. Sounds familiar, right moms? Aisha still spends most of her time on exhibit hanging onto Indah, so you might need to spend some time at the exhibit to see Aisha climbing and hanging around.

Inside the orangutan bedrooms, if Aisha is awake, she is off and running. Well, not running exactly, but she doesn’t stay idle for long. She is climbing and moving all around her bedrooms. Indah is now comfortable enough that she does not immediately pick up Aisha when we come into the building. Aisha is curious about people and will come over to the bars and reach out to us if we have something that she wants or is curious about. While Aisha is off Mom a lot, she still will not leave her or go anywhere without her.

I often get asked when we will be putting the siamangs and Indah and Aisha together. At this time, we do not want to rush the process and have not yet set a date for introductions. If we put them together too soon, we run the risk of Unkie, the male siamang, being aggressive and potentially hurting Aisha or causing Indah undo stress. We want to avoid any negative interaction. It is best to wait until Aisha is more mobile and Indah is confident in Aisha’s safety. This is still months away from any consideration.

I truly appreciate everyone’s support for our orangutans, and with your support, we can help save this species for future generations.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

14

Orangutan Baby Playing, Trying Out New Teeth

Orangutan AishaAn orangutan youngster at the San Diego Zoo is now a little more than 8 months old and has begun to switch to solid foods. The playful youngster, named Aisha, was born at the Zoo October 25, 2013. Although continuing to nurse, Aisha’s emerging teeth are leading her to experiment with solid foods like apples, mangos and bananas.

In addition to her nine new teeth, Aisha is continuing to grow and develop. The little orangutan climbs and plays in the outdoor habitat, never venturing more than 10 feet from her mother. Animal care staff at the Zoo indicates that Aisha is taking advantage of the opportunities provided her to learn and grow as a young orangutan would in the wild.

Photo taken on July 7, 2014, by Ken Bohn, San Diego Zoo.

CONTACT: San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations, 619-685-3291

5

Gorilla Baby: Movin’ and Groovin’

Imani & Baby

Joanne, the littlest gorilla at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, is in the process of learning how to crawl. So far she has mastered rolling over onto her stomach and has gotten very good at propping herself up on all fours and scooting forward inch by inch. During this independent time, her mother, Imani, usually keeps a watchful eye on the other kids in the group, 5-year-old Frank and 3-year-old Monroe, who are eager to play with their new sibling, sometimes a bit too roughly. Growing up with older brothers will certainly help to make Joanne one tough little girl!

The biggest adventure the little one has had on her own so far was witnessed by ecstatic keepers during the gorillas’ lunchtime. Using fistfuls of grass as leverage, Imani’s little girl was able to crawl about three feet uphill, a bit more rock climbing than crawling, while Mom munched on broccoli and watched her baby’s feat from over her shoulder. Worn out, Joanne plopped down on her stomach and let Mom retrieve her.

Every day brings an exciting new accomplishment for this 3-month-old!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Baby: Chew on This.

11

Gorilla Baby: Chew on This

Can you see those baby teeth yet?

Can you see those baby teeth yet?

At two and a half months old, gorilla Imani’s little girl is starting to get her first teeth. Much like human infants, the first teeth to come in for a baby gorilla are typically the front teeth. Imani’s baby’s two bottom central incisors have already appeared, and the top two are showing signs of poking through.

To help the process along, the baby has been chewing on everything she can get in her mouth. Pretty much anything will do: her own hand, arm, the giant piece of browse that Mom is holding…

It’ll probably be a month or two before we see this little one eat solid foods, but in the meantime, she is developing the tools she will need to do so. What fun to watch her grow here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Baby Yoga.

18

On the Palm Oil Path: A Journey to Sustainability

Making informed palm-oil decisions can help Indah and Aisha's wild brethren.

Making informed palm-oil decisions can help Indah and Aisha’s wild brethren.

When you watch the San Diego Zoo’s orangutans brachiating from branch to branch, it’s easy to picture the movement of wild apes through the canopy of those big trees in Borneo and Sumatra. Watching our sun bear Marcella sleep high in her climbing structure, you can envision a wild sun bear resting up in the canopy close to the fruit of a monstrous tree. There are a number of species that depend on the lush forests of tropical Southeast Asia, and these species are now at risk due to rampant deforestation and loss of habitat. As mentioned in a previous post, The Palm Oil Conservation Crisis, one of the major drivers of that deforestation is unsustainable palm oil cultivation.

The palm oil conservation crisis is a highly complex problem that cannot be solved overnight. However, San Diego Zoo Global has waded into the issue and hopes to contribute to a solution that can preserve forests and the wildlife that depends on them. Our first step was to join the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a multi-stakeholder organization that has produced a series of criteria aimed at altering the palm oil supply chain to produce a sustainable crop. (See press release Three US Zoos Take Leadership Role in Supporting Sustainable Palm Oil Practices.) The goal of the RSPO is to make certified sustainable palm oil the norm, thus ending the unsustainable practices that endanger forests. The RSPO is a young organization, and though it has made great strides in its 10 years, there is still a long way to go toward ensuring that palm oil is deforestation-free.

This is the reason North American zoos and aquariums are stepping up to address this issue, too. As conservation entities, we want to ensure a wild future for the species many of our guests see at our facilities. I just returned from the first Sustainable Palm Oil Symposium, hosted by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. Cheyenne Mountain was the first North American zoo to join the RSPO, and in hosting this symposium they helped to facilitate a dialogue among concerned zoos about what we can do, collectively and as individual institutions. We got an on-the-ground perspective from attending NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that work in Malaysia and Indonesia, and this allowed us to have a better understanding of what parts of the industry are likely to be most responsive to our efforts. It was really inspiring to be surrounded by like-minded folks who are as passionate about the palm oil conservation crisis as we are. Zoos around the world are raising awareness of the problem and are trying to encourage the transformation of the palm oil industry to sustainability. At the symposium, we realized that we might wield a powerful voice if we unite in our efforts.

That is very much our goal now. I hope to share with you some of our efforts and accomplishments over the next several months. In the meantime, you can help by supporting the RSPO’s vision to transform the palm oil industry. Think of this transformation as a journey toward sustainability. Zoos, corporations, and even the RSPO are on a journey, each of us in a different place, but the goal is clear. San Diego Zoo Global supports those companies that are making progress toward a sustainable palm oil industry. We encourage you to support the RSPO and those RSPO-member companies that are taking steps along their journey to sustainability, too.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

3

The Palm Oil Conservation Crisis

Sun bears are the smallest of the bears, but they face a big crisis.

Sun bears are the smallest of the bears, but they face a big crisis.

The San Diego Zoo is home to a pair of Bornean sun bears, Marcella and Francis. Sun bears are the smallest of the eight living species of bear and are well adapted to life in their native jungle home. Being small and light makes it easier for them to climb, an important behavior when the trees in your forest can stretch as tall as 80 meters (more than 260 feet), and the fruit they bear is held aloft. If you need to eat, you need to climb! Sun bears have other adaptations for climbing, too: claws to dig into the bark and bare paws to reduce slipping as they ascend or descend. But these physical and behavioral features aren’t put to good use if their jungle home is denuded of trees. Unfortunately, sun bears have been losing trees, and habitat, to palm oil cultivation.

Have you heard about the palm oil conservation crisis? A major driver of deforestation on a grand scale, unsustainable palm oil cultivation poses a threat to plants and animals that live in the tropical regions where it grows best. In Malaysia and Indonesia, where about 90 percent of the world’s palm oil is grown, ancient forests are cleared to make way for new plantings. This eliminates habitat for the vast array of species that call those forests home. Orangutans, tigers, sun bears, hornbills, tapirs, pangolins, orchids…all are increasingly at risk due to the continuous expansion of the palm oil industry. In some cases, this expansion threatens species with extinction; orangutans, for example, are found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, where palm oil cultivation is firmly entrenched. If we can’t put a stop to the unchecked deforestation resulting from farming this commodity, the estimated 50,000 remaining wild orangutans there may someday soon cease to exist.

Why is the palm oil industry growing so rapidly? It’s primarily because the human population is growing, and with it is an increasing need to supply us with food and materials for our daily lives. To that end, oil palm is an extremely versatile crop and can be used in a wide array of products, from food items to bath and hygiene products to biofuels. As a result, palm oil or its derivatives are an ingredient in about 50 percent of the products on the shelves in a typical US supermarket. Everything from sodas to soaps, from peanut butter to packaged cookies, from toothpaste to dinner rolls…all might contain palm oil.

But palm oil is not all bad. For one thing, it’s a very efficient crop to produce. An acre of palm oil plantings produces 4 to 10 times as much oil for sale as other options like soybean or sunflower oil. Palm uses less land to create a volume of edible oil for human consumption than any other choice. This is an important reason why boycotting palm oil is not a good conservation solution; to boycott is to simply push the land-clearance problem off to some other commodity. It only takes a little effort to uncover how the growth of the soybean industry in South America has created a conservation crisis of its own. Thus, avoiding palm oil in favor of other options does not avoid putting biodiversity at risk. Another factor to consider: palm oil has elevated the lives of millions of Malaysian and Indonesian families, and as many as 30 million families worldwide are economically dependent upon palm oil for their livelihoods.

So how do we North Americans, and conservation organizations like San Diego Zoo Global, begin to address this complex issue? In my next post, I will explore this topic in depth and share with you the actions we are taking. As you learn more about the palm oil conservation crisis, we hope you’ll be inspired to take action, too. In doing so, we can preserve some of those big trees for future generations of wild sun bears like Marcella and Francis.

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Xiao Liwu: Weaning Wrap-up.

4

Gorilla Baby Yoga

Imani's baby demonstrates her "Super Girl" pose!

Imani’s baby demonstrates her “Super Girl” pose!

Gorilla Imani’s baby girl has been getting a lot of exercise lately. In order to give her arms some much-needed rest, Imani has been testing out new ways to hold and carry her little girl, who is now almost 7 weeks old. When navigating the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s gorilla exhibit, it’s helpful for a gorilla to have use of both of her hands. In order to do so, Imani has been trusting the strength of the little one to hold on by herself while Mom forages. With fistfuls of hair, baby clings to Imani’s chest while Mom climbs the fallen tree structures, gathers greens from branches of the Dovyalis caffra trees, or shakes sunflower seeds from a bamboo feeder.

When resting in the root ball or the exhibit alcoves, Mom has been holding her little girl in different, challenging positions. Imani has been seen resting her baby in her lap to allow her to stretch her tiny arms and legs. While lying on her back, Imani will also sometimes use her hands and feet to hold her baby high above her in what we keepers have dubbed the Super Girl pose. As the littlest gorilla in the troop becomes more curious and aware of her surroundings, these new positions will give her a new perspective on the exciting world around her.

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Baby Gorilla at Home.

12

Baby Gorilla at Home

Imani cradles her infant while on exhibit at the Safari Park.

Imani cradles her infant while on exhibit at the Safari Park.

These past five weeks have been some of the most hectic and rewarding weeks that my fellow keepers and I have experienced on the job! Born via C-section and needing treatment for pneumonia and a collapsed lung, gorilla Imani’s baby girl had a bit of a rough start to life (see video below). Thanks to the dedicated team of people working around the clock, and her own fighting spirit, she eventually pulled through. Since being introduced to her mom and other gorilla troop members at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, life has been smooth sailing.

Imani has, so far, been the picture of an ideal mother. During the first couple of days of their introduction, Imani experimented with different ways of holding her new baby girl. While raising her “adopted” son Frank, he would often ride on Imani’s back. Gorilla moms usually carry their kids on their back until they reach about three months old. Imani quickly learned that this little newborn would much rather be held close to the chest and would demonstrate the strength of her rehabilitated lungs by crying loudly if Mom tried anything else! Look for Imani out on exhibit carrying the baby, usually in her right arm, while foraging. Having an infant in her arms has not slowed Imani down or diminished her appetite for kale, romaine, sunflower seeds, a tasty piece of acacia browse, you name it!

After Mom has had her fill, one of Imani’s favorite spots to sit down and nurse her baby is the heated pad in the giant root ball at the base of the fallen tree-climbing structure. You can often see Imani resting here at different times throughout the day, baby cradled in her arms. Watch for Imani holding the baby’s hand in her own or grooming her while she nurses. Frank, now 5½ years old, is usually not too far away, and the other gorillas frequently take turns passing by for a peek as they carry on with their own activities.

At the end of the day, the troop returns to the bedroom area for the night. After dinner, Imani usually makes a nest of hay large enough for her, her baby, and five-year-old big brother Frank to sleep together. Come to the Safari Park and watch with us as this little girl grows up!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

21

Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

Satu sits slightly down with a piece of burlap over his head; Indah lies in a hammock completely covered by burlap, and Karen has a burlap bag clutched in her foot as she does somersaults in front of the glass. What’s up with the burlap? Burlap is one of the enrichment items we give the orangutans on exhibit. If you have spent anytime at the San Diego Zoo, you probably have heard of enrichment. Enrichment basically refers to anything given to the animals that will increase their activity both physically and mentally.

When animals are on exhibit, we are limited to items that are natural in appearance, and with orangutans, we are limited further to items that are “orangutan proof.” Orangutans are intelligent, strong, and creative animals. Great care has to be given so that individuals cannot hurt themselves, destroy the items, or, more likely, use the item as a tool for mischief.

In addition to the burlap, pinecones, gourds, bamboo, browse, and palm fronds are enrichment items we commonly use on exhibit. We try to give them items that will encourage natural behaviors. Orangutans are arboreal mammals from the rain forest. They use branches and large fronds to protect themselves from the rain and sun. We give them burlap, browse, and palm fronds to mimic this behavior. We put treats and smears in and on the pinecones, gourds, and bamboo to encourage foraging behaviors and tool use. We have a simulated termite mound in the exhibit, which, of course, does not contain ants or termites but different sauces. It is not so important what is in the termite mound but that they use tools to extract what they want out of it.

Tool use is a learned behavior passed from mother to offspring. We saw Indah actively teaching Cinta to use the termite mound, and it will be great to see her do the same with her newest baby, Aisha. Different groups have different tool use methods, and even individuals have a preference when it comes to extracting the enrichment. When we give bamboo cups with gelatin inside, Satu likes to use his strong jaws and teeth to just break it open, Cinta would pound it on rocks and knock out the gelatin, while Karen uses a small stick to get the good stuff.

You will also notice when you look at the exhibit that there are large, plastic items hung on ropes. While they are not natural looking, they fulfill the other requirement: they are orangutan proof. We use these as permanent enrichment items in the exhibit. In addition to the animals using them to swing and play with, we also put food items inside periodically. As a result, the orangutans check them every day. This increases their activity level, but it also mimics a natural behavior. Orangutans have a mental map of the rain forest: where the fruiting trees are located, and what is edible. They remember where they found food in the past and return to it later.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months.