I ♥ ORANG UTANS!
Why orang utans? Great hairy apes that they are! Apes they may be, but then so are we. Orangs are our close cousins, able to reason and think, like we do. The name "orang utan" means "person of the forest". I first became personally interested in them when a new TV programme came onto the Pick TV channel. Called "Monkey Business" (later "Monkey Life"), it was a documentary series about the building of Monkey World in 1997 as it happened. The series is now in it's 15th season, one filmed every year. Viewers are given insights into the rescue and rehabilitation of all kinds of apes and monkeys. Including the rescue of Tuan, who had been a pet and who manged to escape into the busy streets of Taiwan. And behind it all was Amy, the loveable, grumpy orang lady who watched all the new arrivals with a disdainful expression. I so much wanted to visit them, but Dorset is a long way from rural Wales. Then my daughter suggested we get a hire car and stay in Bath. From there it is just a couple of hours to Monkey World. Our first visit was amazing! We were there from opening time to closing. We had to be herded out, along with a few other straglers.
I loved seeing the chimps of course, the wooly monkeys, lemurs, and all the rest. But the orangs grabbed my heart. From the nursey of mischevious youngsters, to the gentle, dignified adults of Tuan's harem, and Gordon. Gordon rather likes human women, and loves to flirt with pretty admirers. Though I reckon he always looks as if he's wearing a jumper that Amy knitted! The orangs I had watched on "Monkey Life" were my favourite celebrities. No one could fail to be moved by the story of Oshine. She had grown up a pampered daughter-surrogate in South Africa, wearing clothes, stuffed full of sweets and other goodies, and allowed to wander around wherever she wanted. When she arrived at MW she was dangerously overweight, and struggling with her desire to be a mother constantly thwarted. As Oshine had had no contact with other adult orangs, and insisted on walking upright like a human, she could not be put into Gordon or Tuan's group. She was placed in the nursery group, and found her niche as a foster mother.
Through "Monkey Life" they became more than just endangered animals, to feel sad about for five minutes. They became people with their own personalities, their own thoughts and feelings. Yes, I do identify with the adorable orange people. They love to be alone, but they like the company of others; they like to make things for themselves, like hats made out of woven leaves; they're orange; they love to just sit and look at the sky for hours. Life is taken slowly, and they consider everything carefully before making a move.
You could find out all the facts you want from sites like Wikepedia, and sites owned by zoos and sanctuaries. But there are some facts that I have found to be utterly fascinating; the most important one being that we share over 97% of our DNA sequence with orangs. Think about that for a moment. 97%. They're our nextdoor neighbours, and yet we feel able to treat them so badly, destroying their habitats for our own selfish needs. Purely so that we will have enough palm oil to put in our food, while taking food and shelter from our neighbours. We truely are a disgusting race.
Orangs are gentle, thoughtful people who move, and have evolved slowly. Yet in the wild, orangs have been seen trying to walk upright, and one was even witnessed trying to imitate human speech. They easily learn to use tools, wash their hands in soapy water, and in some zoos, orangs like to help the staff with washing windows or sweeping floors. They are hugely intelligent. So much so that zoos and sanctuaries have to be careful to make enclosures orang-proof. There are numerous stories of orangs who managed to get out of their enclosures, and then spent some time wandering around with the visitors, looking at the other animals.
A few more facts. They are arboreal and spend most of their time climbing up in trees in the wild, or in sanctuaries, on climbing frames. It was thought there were two species, Bornean and Sumartran. But in 2017 the Tapanuli was found. They have three genders: dominant male with face flanges, female, and non-dominant male without flanges. In the wild there are only 100,000 Bornean orangs left, less than 14,000 Sumatran, and less than 800 Tapanuli. Something has got to be done. There are breeding programmes in some zoos and sanctuaries, and safe havens in Asia, but they are not enough. Especially as orangs spend 7 years with their mothers in the wild, meaning that females have young only every 7-9 years. Yet mother orangs are routinely slaughtered in places like Borneo and Sumatra, and their babies taken away to be abused and mistreated as "pets". I am not overstating the situation, it really is that deplorable.
Monkey World is a primate sanctuary in Dorset, England. It was created by Jim Cronin (of Yonkers, New York) and Jeremy Keeling, and later Dr Alison Cronin (of California), on the site of an old pig farm in rural Dorset. Jim, while working in a UK zoo, had become aware of the plight of primates who were being abused as beach photographer's "props" in Spain. He rescued nine chimpanzees to being with, but the first resident was Amy, Jeremy's own orang utan. She had been abandoned by her mother and hand reared by Jeremy Keeling and the pair were, and are, devoted to each other.
They now house over 260 primates from 22 different species, ranging from lemurs, patas monkeys, macaques, chimps, orangs, to the rare white-throated guenons, and many more. SOme were rescued from abusive situations, were victims of the illegal exotic animals trade, and a few were born at MW. Jim died in 2007 and his wife, Dr Cronin, has carried on the work of rescuse and rehabilitation. She liases with governments around the world to stop the illegal smuggling of apes and monkeys. MW also co-runs a sanctuary for gibbons and orangs in Dao Tien, South Vietnam.
MW's orangs utans live in three distinct groups. Big male Tuan, a Bornean from Taiwan, lives with his ladies A-Mei, RoRo, and Lucky, baby Awan, and baby Hujan, who are also all Borneans. Gordon, son of "Grumpy" Amy, lives with his mother, and his lady, Hsiao-Lan. They are all Borneans. Amy is a very dominant lady and she keeps Gordon in line! Then there is the nursery, a mixture of Borean and Sumartran. This is the only creche in Europe where abandoned or orphaned babies live, under the supervision of Oshine, a Bornean from South Africa. The youngsters all love Mama Oshine.
I've sponsored Amy for several years and I love going to visit her. As MW is so far away, I can only visit once a year, but I do make the most of it! I love how Amy is very much her own orang. Gordon may be the dominant male with his huge cheek flanges, but he still does as his mother tells him. She will only tolerate him having one lady in his tiny harem. As Amy is now over 30 years old, she is more tolerant of Gordon's fondness for Hsiao-Lan. I remember seeing her napping, or pretending to, in a corner of their bedroom, next to the window. Gordon desperately wanted her to wake up and play, but he was scared of incurring her wrath. So he gently prodded her and then quickly moved away before she could smack him! Amy is known for being very inquisitive and all fixtures and fittings in their home have to be "Amy-proof".
The last time I went to MW, all the orangs had been given browse of bamboo leaves and twigs. Young Mini-Loren, of the nursery group, ate half of hers. Then she carefully stashed the other half for later, by pushing it through the wire of the enclosure where no one else could see it. Clever girl!
FAMOUS ORANG UTANS
Sandra was originally from Germany, but was sent to live in Argentina at a young age. The zoo she lived in had become rundown and there were accusations of neglect. In 2015 an Argentinian judge declared that Sandra was to have non-human personhood status and must be taken away from that zoo, so that she could "spend the rest of her life in a more dignified situation". She went to live in the primate sanctuary in the Centre for Great Apes in Florida. It is the only accredited orang utan sanctuary in North America. The centre houses other famous primates, such as the late Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles, Clyde the orang utan from the "Every Which Way" movies, and other ex-television and movie "stars".
Karen, of San Diego zoo, was the first orang utan to have open heart surgery in 1994 and in 2021 she was among the first non-human to be given the covid-19 vaccine. After her operation 100 volunteers came forward to look after her as she recovered. Ken Allen also lived at San Diego zoo. He was famous for three successful escape attempts and he was nicknamed "the hairy Houdini". He would stroll around, looking at the other animals and was never aggressive to the humans around him. During his last break-out a visitor to the zoo took him by the hand and led him to a keeper. Ken Allen went quietly! Sadly, he died in 2000 at the age of 29. At the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation there is a male with no arms, named Kopral. His arms had to be amputated after he sustained electrocution burns as a youngster, while trying to escape from people who would capture him and sell him as a pet. Despite his lack of arms, Kopral became a dominant male and had to be sent to live on his own sanctuary island, with two friends. There is an amazing video of him here, managing to live very well.
PHOTOS OF ORANG UTANS FROM MONKEY WORLD
Taken from my last visit to MW, in november 2021.
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