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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Meet new orangutan of the forest, Godek

Godek orangutan
Godek’s steely eyes might even give “blue steel” a run for its money. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

He’s a little shy by nature. But when Godek took his first steps into the indoor orangutan exhibit, there was nothing tentative about the way he moved. The 8-year-old male Sumatran orangutan is settling right into his new home.

After arriving from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado earlier this summer, Godek completed a standard quarantine at our veterinary hospital where care staff first observed his shy demeanor. His keepers from Colorado told us to expect the young fellow to be gentle and quiet, but also very playful. We had this in mind when we began introductions between Godek and his new social group.

The plan is for Godek to live with our older females, 49-year-old Chinta and 46-year-old Melati. Siblings Belawan, female, 36 and Heran, male, 28, have formed a second group. Godek is the first new addition to our orangutan family in 28 years. While our keepers have expertise in successfully introducing apes, we know this is new and different for the orangutans. So we’re following their cues and moving at a pace that works for these animals.

The first introduction

Before their first day together in the indoor exhibit, introductions between Godek and Chinta began slowly and methodically in a behind the scenes area. Initial introductions, which we call “howdy” sessions, start with a safety barrier between the animals, such as mesh screening. This way they can see and smell each other, reach through for physical contact, but still have the security of being in their own physical space as they adjust to the presence of new faces.

Sweet and mellow Chinta was the first to break the ice with Godek. During the first howdy introduction, Godek did the usual spitting and pushing against the mesh, which is normal and not unexpected from the young male. Chinta didn’t balk at his displays. By day two, Godek took a hint from Chinta and settled into positive and calm interactions with her. When he met Melati through a howdy session several days later, the good vibes continued.

Godek and Chinta orangutans
Godek, left, hangs out (get it?) with Chinta as they get to know one another better. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Sharing a home

Yesterday, Chinta and Godek shared space together for the first time. When keepers opened the doors between their behind the scenes bedrooms and their indoor exhibit, Godek was the first to enter. He had the place to himself for about 10 minutes and used it to explore all around. We now see why his Colorado keepers nicknamed him “Spider-man.” Agile and quick, he scaled the vines and platforms and has already found himself a favorite hammock.

Chinta eventually decided to join him in the indoor exhibit and the two were easily companionable. Though Chinta will turn 50 next year—an amazing old age for an orangutan—Godek seems to be bringing some youthfulness out of her. The two wrestled, ate together, playfully grunted, and explored each other’s faces and bodies. Chinta always enjoyed wrestling with her nephew Heran when he was young, and is bringing that same patience and sweetness to her new buddy. Godek can be a little demanding of attention, but when she wants a break, Chinta has no problem being gentle yet clear.

After a few hours of intense play and exploration on their first day together, Godek seemed to tire out finally and began constructing a nest on one of the platforms. Chinta stretched and rolled over onto her back to relax. The keepers had been watching every minute of the interactions, prepared for all possibilities. Even though Godek got a second wind later, keepers ultimately saw two tuckered out orangutans. That was exactly the successful first step they wanted to see. We will need to see how the next few days play out but it was a great first day.

Godek and Chinta, orangutans
Godek looks around his indoor exhibit as Chinta chills behind him. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

What’s next for Godek?

Keepers will record daily observations so we can see how Godek adjusts to the space and his mates over time. We expect to continue to see positive signs. Next up, Chinta and Godek will be introduced to the outdoor area together. Our award-winning Trail of Vines exhibit was the first in the world to provide an open canopy forested home for orangutans. For Godek, this will be his first time outdoors without a net overhead. Because it’s been nearly three decades since the zoo has had a younger, more agile orangutan, we did a thorough inspection of the exhibit and made various modifications to ensure Godek’s safety.

After he settles into both the indoor and outdoor spaces comfortably, keepers will add Melati into the mix and give this new group time to adjust. During these introductions, we are temporarily closing visitor access to the orangutan exhibit to give the animals the space and time they need.

Godek is naturally at the age when he is ready to explore on his own, away from the family he was born into. His arrival to Seattle is part of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan, a conservation breeding program across accredited zoos to ensure genetically healthy populations, especially of endangered species. It will be several years before Godek reaches sexual maturity, and he will eventually be joined by a young female mate here. We hope to see them start the next generation of orangutans.

Orangutan Godek
Godek is young and has not yet developed the full cheek pads of a mature male orangutan. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

You can help save orangutans

We’re fighting for a future with orangutans in it. In their native Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans have been declared critically endangered. Overpopulation, logging, agriculture, conversion of forests to oil palm plantations, and other human activities are rapidly destroying their forest home. Working with our partner, the Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, we support eco-friendly livelihoods and education in communities that share orangutan habitat, empowering local conservation advocates.

Palm oil Malaysia
Unsustainable monoculture crops such as palm oil are a threat to forests and the diverse wildlife they support. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo, taken in Peninsular Malaysia.

Palm Oil Sustainable Shopping Guide
We’re in it to save species, but we can’t do it alone. It takes help from conservation partners and communities around the world, and that includes you. Do this one thing: download our sustainable palm oil guide to make forest-friendly consumer choices that protect orangutan habitat. Palm oil shows up in our grocery stores in everything from candy to shampoo. The guide will help you shop from companies committed to sustainable palm oil that is deforestation free. Take one look at Godek scaling heights and the need to protect forests for wild orangutans becomes so clear. 

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