FORT WAYNE – For now, Tara and her new bunk mates are merely inspecting each other through the mesh separating their bedrooms.
But in a few weeks, Tara, the new Sumatran orangutan will be out romping in the exhibition area with Tengku and Melati, the two resident Sumatran orangutans at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
Tara, an 18-year-old female, came to the zoo in April from the Columbus Zoo, where she lived since 2002.
She was born at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, N.M., and is considered middle-age for a female Sumatran orangutan, which has a normal life expectancy of about 32 years.
Since her arrival, she and the two other orangutans have merely been aware of each other’s presence in the building behind the exhibits. And over time the introduction will be complete, at which point she’ll be introduced to the public.
For now, though, Tengku and Melati are interested in getting to know their new roommate. And as they get to know each other, the pair are allowed to roam between the bedroom area and the exhibit, so there may be periods of time when they are not visible in the exhibit area, officials said.
They’re just intensely interested in each other, said Cheryl Piropato, the zoo’s education and communications director.
Tara came to the zoo through the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Species Survival Plan looks at the pedigrees of endangered animals and, based on their genetic background, makes recommendations to zoos and aquariums as to where the animal belongs to manage genetic diversity in the captive population.
Orangutans are social animals, and Tara had been alone at Columbus for a few years since the male she was with died, Piropato said.
Breeding Tara is definitely a possibility, Piropato said. Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, found only on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Their habitat is threatened by deforestation and mining operations, Piropato said.
They’re facing incredible threats in the wild, she said. There are only a few hundred remaining in the wild.
Angie Selzer, the zookeeper who cares for the orangutans, said in a written statement that Tara is already trained on several medical behaviors, such as extending her arm for a blood draw, to make her daily management much more efficient.
Tara is full of personality, Selzer said. We’re thrilled to have her in Fort Wayne.
Tara can be distinguished from the other orangutans by her petite build and darker fur on her face, hands and feet.
In other zoo news, the baby Javan gibbon born in May has been named. Born to mother Dieng and father Lionel, the new baby has been named Kado, which means gift in Indonesian, Piropato said.