L.A. Zoo Debuts Newly-Renovated Red Ape Rain Forest

CONTACT: L.A. Zoo Press

August 26, 2015


Zoo Staff And Volunteers Work Together To Create Ideal Habitat For Orangutan With Special Needs

Female Orangutan BeraniPHOTO CREDIT: Brandi Andres

Female Orangutan Berani
PHOTO CREDIT: Brandi Andres

The Los Angeles Zoo is excited to debut the newly-renovated Red Ape Rain Forest, the first major improvements to be made since the exhibit opened in July 2000. The eight month passion project began in January 2015 and brought together several Zoo divisions with the shared goal of creating an improved, multi-dimensional environment for the six orangutans who call the habitat home.

As orangutans are the largest arboreal mammals on the planet, the goal of the improvements was to take the animals off the ground and give them more vertical options. The makeover included a thicker, stronger stainless steel woven mesh, several two and three-tiered wooden climbing structures, 10 bridges on land and suspended in the air, two swings used for foraging and play, and several hammocks made from donated fire hose. The entire exhibit was also repainted, and the grass was reseeded.

“The orangutan’s natural inclination is to be up high in the trees,” said Jennie Becker, Curator of Mammals at Los Angeles Zoo. “These renovations now put the orangutans at eye level, or higher than the visitors, while also increasing their exercise and activity level, providing more shade and cooler temperatures, and giving them more choices to be together as a group or in solitude.”

While the entire group of orangutans benefit from the multitude of choices in their new environment, one special orangutan named Eloise was the driving force behind most of the design and construction decisions. Eloise, a 46-year-old female special needs orangutan living with a condition similar to cerebral palsy, has physical and developmental challenges that have been present since birth. Her decreased mobility, limited range of motion, tight muscles, and curled feet make it harder for her to maneuver throughout her environment. Animal care staff works with Eloise daily through physical therapy sessions and special training, but a long-term solution was necessary.

“We designed the entire habitat as if Eloise was the only animal in the exhibit,” said Nancy Adams, Enrichment Coordinator at Los Angeles Zoo. “We knew if Eloise was able to access all of the structures and move freely throughout the different spaces, then the rest of the family would thrive in the new environment as well.”

Enrichment staff and volunteers spent six months after the initial construction of the mesh, building structures that would benefit Eloise and her special needs, but would also satisfy the entire orangutan group’s strength and intelligence.

“When you build for animals, a lot of thought goes into their safety and welfare,” said Adams. “We wanted to give them a lot of choices to explore while also safely fostering their inquisitive nature with plenty of enrichment options. So far, the renovated exhibit has exceeded our expectations, and the orangutans are adapting to the new structure nicely, exactly as we hoped they would.”

Eloise was the first of the orangutan group to venture out into a portion of the newly-remodeled Red Ape Rain Forest on May 9, and she has been able to enjoy the improvements thanks to the mobility the structures provide for her. The remainder of the orangutan family was able to investigate the entirety of the renovated exhibit on August 11, and began cautiously exploring their new surroundings. Four-year-old Elka was the first to cross the suspension bridge, a dizzying height that took her over twenty feet in the air, and the rest of the family followed her lead.

Guests can now look to the skies of Red Ape Rain Forest and view Eloise along with the rest of the orangutan group, Bruno (36), Rosie (34), Kalim (33), Berani (10), and Elka (4) swinging, climbing, foraging, and exploring in their habitat daily, weather permitting.

Red Ape Rain Forest Reopening Media Debut

August 27, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
5333 Zoo Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Media staff should park in the Zoo’s south lot near the public bus circle, and a Zoo staff member will transport them to the Red Ape Rain Forest.

To RSVP or request additional photos, please call (323) 644-4273.

About the Los Angeles Zoo
The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $19 for adults and $14 for children ages 2 to 12. The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo Web site at www.lazoo.org.

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