AUGUST 23, 2016
Over the weekend, Jackson Zoo Deputy Director Dave Wetzel was informed by the Orangutan Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that the longtime Bornean orangutan residents would be permanently moved to other AZA properties.
The call was the end result of a Jackson Zoo requested consultation of this endangered species due to the birth of a baby boy in November of 2015. The female “Kimmie” (or “Sabah”) has been attentive in her care of her offspring, but despite supplemental feedings and additional multivitamins, the keepers felt that the baby was not developing as expected. They requested input from the Orangutan SSP of the AZA, who sent representatives from Chicago, Illinois, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a day long evaluation on August 8th. The infant, was indeed developing a little slower than normal.
Also discussed was the behavior of the adult animals, which had changed since the arrival of the much-anticipated newborn. Kimmie lost interest in the male, “Pumpkin,” and discouraged his attention towards the baby. The age and layout of the exhibit itself made “shifting” (moving the animals from their holding rooms to the outdoor area) challenging, especially with the addition of an infant.
After concluding the visit, the SSP took their findings back to the group and held further discussions. In the end, they decided it was in the best interest of the animals that they be permanently relocated to zoos with more current exhibits. Animal care staff at the Indianapolis Zoo (with a brand new state-of-the-art exhibit) will welcome the female with her baby, and the male will be relocated to the Houston Zoo, effective immediately.
Jackson Zoo has had orangutans for almost 20 years. In 2007, the zoo was able to fund a revamp of the exhibit, increasing size and amenities of both the night holding suite and the outdoor exhibit. In the Jackson Zoo Ten Year Plan (unveiled in 2015), the orangutan exhibit is due to be completely redesigned and replaced, as the current structure is too old and outdated to be adjusted with upgrades. Unfortunately, such a project is unlikely in near future.
As the Jackson Zoo animal care staff prepare for the departure of the animals, they are confident in the positive outcome for all three, and look forward to working with the receiving zoos and keeping up with their progress. Jackson Zoo Director Beth Poff and the Zoo Board hope that the future of the Ten Year Plan will see the return of orangutans.
For more information about the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, please visit their site online at http://www.aza.org/species-survival-plan-programs.