Teamwork & Moving Orangutans

Its not everyday we, here at the Cincinnati Zoo, relocate apes,  as the decision process and planning to do so is quite involved.  In an effort to improve the North American orangutan population we received a recommendation from the Species Survival Plan (SSP) who oversees all orangutans in AZA institutions to transfer our male “Butch” to the El Paso Zoo in exchange for their male “Henry”.

There are currently only about 100 orangutans in AZA zoo populations and there is need for increasing these numbers.  Wild orangutans are one of the top 25 most critically endangered primate species in the world and very valuable to zoo missions and interpretive programs.

Butch will have the opportunity to reproduce with the female in El Paso.  As a behavioral  non breeder, Henry will make a better match up for our female “Lana” who is not recommended to reproduce due to her age.  Zoos work cooperatively in this manner to responsibly manage many species to meet “big picture” goals.

A couple of years ago, in preparation for any future ape or big cat moves, our Zoo designed and built a shipping crate in-house that is customized to fit and work in several areas of the Zoo including Night Hunters, quarantine, Jungle Trails and the Primate Center.  It has special features that enable us to set it up in multiple ways to address unique configurations in each area.  Quite a few staff members in each department along with Dr. Levens and Mike Dulaney helped design the crate but the maintenance team were the ones that made it happen.  Th Zoo’s maintenance crew was incredibly good at understanding and guiding what everyone was trying to achieve with this crate concept and turned those ideas, measurements and suggestions into a beautiful work of art. (at least in the eyes of people that transfer animals around).  Additionally, maintenance helped us design a special “crate framework port” in the orangutan cage that the crate would plug into to secure it  safely and efficiently.  This would better facilitate crate training with Butch, giving the keepers more opportunity to work on the conditioning.   We did a short test drive of the crate when we transferred Kwashi the gorilla from quarantine to the Primate Center last year but moving Butch and Henry around would be the first big test outside the Zoo.

Prior to the shipment date keepers in Jungle Trails were able to condition Butch to enter the crate voluntarily.   This is very important as it eliminated the need for  tranquilization.  Commissary helped come up with a creative plan to get the heavy crate with Butch  in it out of the cage and down the service hallway.  While this was going on, Mike Dulaney used his contacts at DHL air cargo to set up a flight for Butch.  Vicki and myself accompanied Butch by riding along in the cockpit  jump seats with the pilots.  DHL flies primarily overnights so the transfers took place in the middle of the night.  Two maintenance staff members came in at midnight to help load and later unload the crate in and out of the Zoo’s Sprinter van.  Randy Pairan also helped with this and drove us to the airport along with Mike. Meanwhile Cincinnati and  El Paso zoo’s quarantine areas prepared for each arrival.  Any new animal arriving at a zoo goes though a health quarantine period just to be sure no new parasites, etc are also transferred along.

The two moves went off without a hitch thanks to all of the hard work and thoughtful preparation of the entire team.  The crate passed with flying colors.  The El Paso staff must have taken a million photos of it.  Butch settled in well at El Paso and Henry is now here in our quarantine area waiting for his upcoming introduction to our orangutan area, Lana and to the community.  Introductions times and challenges can vary from individual to individual especially when it come to the great apes, who can have dramatically different personalities so there is no definite timeline for when he will be on exhibit.   But, we will be sure to let everyone know.