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Auckland Zoo orangutans about to fly south

Auckland Zoo orangutans about to fly south

Auckland Zoo’s three Bornean orangutans will fly south to Christchurch in the early hours of tomorrowmorning (Thursday) bound for their temporary new home, Orana Wildlife Park.

Male Charlie and females Melur and Wanita will have a two-year stay at Orana while Auckland Zoo builds its long planned-for South East Asian precinct. Among many habitats and species, it will include an expansive new home for these Critically Endangered arboreal great apes.

The Zoo’s Primate team leader Amy Robbins says a great deal of work and planning has gone into the trio’s relocation which involves two road trips and a 2.5 hour flight on a Qantas cargo plane, including the design of their transportation crates.

“Our purpose-built marine aluminium crates are the equivalent of (super-sized) first-class seats – specifically designed to make Charlie, Melur and Wanita’s journey as comfortable and stress-free as possible. They have everything from just the right amount of ventilation, a comfortable floor which we’ll cover with bedding/browse, water drinkers and ‘hand holds’ – as being arboreal, orangutans like to have something to hold onto. We’ll also be treating them to a lunch-box of their favourite fruits and vegetables,” says Amy, who will be at Orana with a Primate team colleague and Auckland Zoo vet when the orangutans arrive.

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Auckland Zoo has worked closely with Orana staff in preparation for the orangutans’ move into its Great Ape Centre to ensure the set-up here meets all the needs and requirements of these highly intelligent primates.

“It’s a really great collaboration that will see myself and my Primate team colleagues working between Orana and Auckland, and will give Charlie, Melur and Wanita the best of both worlds. They’ll have the comfort and security of keepers they’re very familiar with, as well as the stimulation of a fantastic new environment and people”, adds Amy.

Orana Wildlife Park chief executive Lynn Anderson says there is already much anticipation for the three’ orangutans’ arrival, whose stay in Christchurch will see Orana “privileged to hold the only gorillas and orangutans in New Zealand”.

“The transfer will be something very special for our team, and local people. Charlie, Melur and Wanita are going to be housed in our Great Ape Centre, next to our magnificent gorillas. This centre enables people to experience and connect with these impressive primates and learn about the threats these critically endangered animals face,” says Ms Anderson.

Construction of Auckland Zoo’s new Sumatra-focused precinct, due to be completed by early 2020, is part of a $120m 10-year redevelopment programme being funded through Auckland Council’s long-term plan, and becomes the largest project in the Zoo’s 95-year history.

“This precinct will transform almost one fifth of the Zoo, and will offer our visitors a stunningly immersive experience of one of the most wildlife-rich but threatened places on Earth,” says Auckland Zoo director, Jonathan Wilcken. “It’s a region close to our hearts with big conservation challenges and opportunities, and an area that we’re very active in supporting.”

Along with orangutans, who will live alongside siamang gibbons, the South East Asian precinct will also feature tigers, otters, and a rich diversity of reptile, fish, and invertebrates. In addition, the development will include a new restaurant/function venue that will overlook the Zoo’s central lake area – orangutan and siamang habitat.

Orangutan Fast Facts

• Malay for ‘person of the forest’, the orangutan is the world’s largest tree-dwelling mammal, and is 97% genetically similar to humans

Conservation status: Bornean orangutan – Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List) and Sumatran orangutan - Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List) due to growth of illegal deforestation for palm oil plantations, and the pet trade

Role in the ecosystem: Orangutans are known as ‘gardeners of the forest’ due to vital role they play in seed dispersal – assisting in forest growth and regeneration that supports a wealth of biodiversity

Auckland Zoo Conservation Fund directly assists orangutan conservation in the wild through its support of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and The Sumatran Ranger Project

Ask for Choice: Auckland Zoo is collaborating with Unmask Palm Oil, Orana Wildlife Park and its other zoo colleagues on the Ask for Choice campaign, lobbying for mandatory labelling of palm oil on food products – to ultimately help orangutans and other South East Asian wildlife. Visit


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