POWELL — Visitors to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will now be able to view orangutans any day of the year with the recent opening of a new indoor habitat.
The zoo made the announcement last month, and the 1,096-square-foot building is named after Board of Directors President Ken Cooke and President Emeritus Jerry Borin. It is adjacent to the outdoor habitat with direct access for orangutans Dumplin, Khali and Sulango.
“The primary goal of this project was to provide a great winter season home for the orangutans while also providing Zoo guests with the opportunity to visit and see them exploring this space during the colder months,” said a press release. “Since 1995, the Columbus Zoo has contributed more than $283,622 to orangutan conservation field projects. The Zoo is committed to protecting this endangered species and educating people about them.”
The indoor space allows the arboreal primates opportunities to climb around in a two-story open space filled with skylights and water sources. There are metal poles that are similar in height (20-25 feet) and diameter (2.5-5.5 inches) to bamboo trees, and painted firehouses that are similar to vines they might encounter in the wild. Staff can provide food or puzzle items to the trio with a system of pulleys, and there is also a second-story ledge on the east wall of the room. Multiple windows on the west wall allow the orangutans to do some people watching. There’s even a hammock for relaxation.
“We are incredibly excited to share this new habitat with the community,” said Curator Audra Meinelt, in the release. “The construction and design of this space was truly a labor of love for the Zoo, and so many people from various departments have contributed to making it a successful space for our orangutans. Orangutans are highly intelligent, and they are extremely curious animals with excellent problem-solving abilities. This habitat provides us with many opportunities to engage the orangutans mentally while mimicking their natural behaviors.”
New videos and graphics were also developed for the entire habitat to educate the public about orangutans.
“Creating indoor habitats that are as state of the art as our exterior habitats is a top priority for us,” said Tom Schmid, president/CEO of the zoo, in the release.
Orangutan means “man of the forest” in Malay, and the mammals shares 96.4% of their DNA with humans, said a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) webpage. These great apes are considered critically endangered, with a population of less than 120,000 among three species. Remarkably, the third species, the Tapanuli, was discovered in 2017. They live on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.
The solitary animals are known for their red fur and powerful arms (spanning 7 feet from fingertip to fingertip), hands and feet. They can weigh up to 200 pounds.
In terms of diet, orangutans “feast on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees,” notes the WWF orangutan page. However, the zoo said Dumplin, Khali and Sulango’s “favorite foods are tomatoes and carrots. The entire group really loves alfalfa.”
For more information, visit ColumbusZoo.org.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.