By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden has announced the arrival of a 23-year-old, female Sumatran Orangutan named Negara (Nē-gar-uh). The over 10,000-mile journey from Australia’s Perth Zoo finalized a two-year process of permits and domestic and international government protocols.
“We worked with the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP) supported by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Perth Zoo,” said Laura Bottaro, Zoological curator. “The SSP approved Negara as a breeding companion for our 15-year-old, male Sumatran orangutan Elok.
‘We hope Negara and Elok will enjoy each other’s company, and will increase the population and add genetic diversity to the species in North America. Orangutan numbers are very low in zoos,” Bottaro said. “The Zoo’s partnership with the SSP acts as an important hedge against extinction for orangutans.”
Today, Sumatran orangutans are considered critically endangered in the wild. Globally, 60 percent of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75 percent have declining populations, according to Science Advances. This decline is the result of extensive habitat loss, increased bushmeat hunting and illegal trade.
The Orangutan Conservancy (www.orangutan.com) states, “this large, gentle red ape is one of humankind’s closest relatives, sharing nearly 97 percent of the same DNA.”
Doing its part in saving wildlife, in 2016 the Zoo joined with Rainforest Trust to buy and protect over 200,000 acres of forest in Sumatra, which provides habitat for orangutans and is the only reintroduction site in the area for these special primates.
The Zoo also supports the production and purchase of only certified sustainable palm oil through its membership in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Palm oil is used as an ingredient in food and household products.
According to a press release, the RSPO protects habitat for orangutans and many other primate species where the production of palm oil has forced orangutans to migrate to nearby forest areas where they often become victims of malnutrition and starvation due to limited resources.
Fans of the OKC Zoo can help with the Zoo’s major conservation efforts by becoming a member of ZOOfriends, which promotes education, conservation, zoological research and recreation. For more information, visit zoofriends.org or call 405-425-0618.
The Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation program allows Zoo guests to “round up” to the nearest dollar when making purchases at the Zoo.
The Round Up program generated more than $112,000 in 2016, a portion of which helped fund the purchase of the rainforest acreage in central Sumatra.
Negara, Elok and female Toba may not be available for Zoo guests to observe together in their habitat for a while. A multiple-step process, introductions can take several weeks to integrate the family group.
Plans are underway to create a new climbing structure in the orangutan habitat that will enable the orangutans to traverse as they would in the wild. Orangutans are primarily arboreal apes, which means “living in trees”.
In addition, the Zoo will be celebrating Valentine’s Day early this year,
“One of our favorite events at the OKC Zoo is to have special enrichment days for our animals,” said Candice Rennels, marketing and public relations manager. “Enrichment adds new or stimulating activities to the animal habitats that helps address their social, psychological and physical needs. The Valentine’s season gives the caretakers the opportunity to show some extra love to the animals.
“This year, we’re delivering special treats to some of the animals on Tuesday, February 7, instead of the 14, from 10-2 p.m.,” Rennels added. “Guests will be able to watch their favorite animals’ curiosity take over as they sniff at, stomp on or devour their unique treats. This Valentine’s enrichment day is free with Zoo admission.”
The Zoo can make Valentine’s Day shopping stress free with gift ideas from the Zoo’s “Wild at Heart” selection of interesting experiences, educational adventures and one-of-a-kind gifts.
Choose from the Zoo’s Wild Encounters, Animal Art, Safari Cart Tours, Zoo Bricks that feature your name or the name of someone you love, or simply give a ZOOfriends membership which offers discounts on education programs, concessions and Zoo Safari Gift Shop purchases. Visit zoofriends.org for more details.
Regular admission to the Zoo is $8 for adults, and $5 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free.
To learn more about these and other Zoo happenings, call 405-424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.