World Orangutan Day
August 19th is World Orangutan Day. This is a day we celebrate and educate the world about a Great Ape called, the Orangutan.
Orangutans are native to the Indonesian islands of Borneo and Sumatra. In the Malay language orangutan means "man or people of the forest".
Orangutans have long, shaggy, orange-red hair.
Males are twice the size of females with an arm span of about 7 feet. Male usually hang out alone, except for breeding.
Orangutans are the largest tree-dwelling mammals.
Bornean orangutans are endangered and Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered.
In the last 60 years, it's estimated that there has been more than a 50 percent decline in the orangutan population. This rapid decline is primarily due to illegal logging, mining, farming, palm oil plantations, and human overpopulation.
In zoos when orangutan moms are not able to care for their young, their keepers will do what they can to help the situation, which sometimes means a surrogate mom needs to step in. Since zoo's want the offspring to be raised naturally by another orangutan, they contact other zoos to see if there is an ideal surrogate who would make the transition a success.
In January of 2014, a male Bornean orangutan named Kecil was born at the Ohio's Toledo zoo. His mother showed very little interest in him, so they sent him to the Milwaukee County Zoo hoping that their female would bond with him. Sadly it didn't work out so in June of 2014, Kecil (6 months) was transferred to Brookfield Zoo near Chicago and introduced to a surrogate mom, Maggie who was 53 years old. Maggie was born at the San Diego Zoo and was known to be gentle and laid back and had experience raising 4 of her own offspring as well as a surrogate to an orphan. She was a great candidate to be a surrogate mom to baby Kecil. They were a perfect match.
In 2016 Maggie passed away leaving baby Kecil as an orphan once again. However, he had play dates with 7 1/2 year old female Kekasih. Kecil later was introduced to Kekasih's mother Sophia and the 3 of them are now a happy family. (photo above)
Interview with Los Angeles Zoo Great Apes Keeper Nancy Bunn
How long have you worked with orangutans?
I've been working in the Great Ape Department for fourteen years. At the LA Zoo we have eight Bornean Orangutans. Picture above are 4yr Elka-Kutai female, 11 yr old female Berani with the tub, (she's Elka's sister) their mother is Kalim, Adult male 37 yr old Bruno (he's a non breeder - a hybrid, Sumatran and Bornean ).
What do you love most about orangutans?
Orangutans have many qualities I love. Their brilliant red hair has always gotten my attention. If I were to pick one quality it would be their problem solving ability. This demonstrates their high intelligence. Our Orangutans will diligently focus on a problem such as dismantling a wooden exhibit platform, etc. They will bring me screws, nails, pieces of wood they have pulled apart.
Describe the first time you had contact with an orangutan.
Long before I actually worked in the great ape department I used to watch our Orangutans in their old exhibit. A connection to that species was developing.
During my lunch breaks I would watch and draw animals throughout the zoo. One time in particular a young Orangutan broke off a piece of bamboo. He threw it at me hitting me in the head. Boy! Did I get a knot on my forehead. Little did I know, I'd actually be working with them years later in a new exhibit.
How would you describe the personality/behavior of an orangutan?
Orangutans have lots of personality. Each animal is special in its own way. Some personality traits are mischievous, playful, thoughtful, shy, tenacious, and creative. It’s fascinating to watch them due to their high intelligence and ability to imitate each other and or their care givers.
What do you hope to accomplish with your connections with orangutans?
As a keeper I’ve developed a deep connection to the Orangutans under my care. I also feel deeply connected to Orangutans in the wild. My goal has always been to provide extraordinary care for the Orangutans I work with daily. I also hope to educate others to learn about Orangutans. To encourage people to support those organizations that are making a difference for them.
What message would you like to tell our readers about orangutans in the wild.
Orangutans are critically endangered in the wild. The palm oil industry is having a profound effect on their habitat. Their habitat is being destroyed at a alarming rate. These magnificent apes need our help if they are to survive. Humans can make a difference by educating themselves regarding palm oil products.
To learn more about orangutans, and the palm oil plantation go to
Many thanks to Nancy Bunn for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her awesome photos and experience working with orangutans at the LA Zoo.
Also a big thanks to my zoo friend Ann Marie Fogarty for sharing her lovely photo of Kecil and his new family.