The Orangutan Workshop – Coming Together to Make a Difference

By Tammy Buhrmester

Have you ever wondered how the staff at the Houston Zoo stays current on taking care of the animals? Many keepers, supervisors, curators and administration staff attend workshops and conferences to learn as much as they can to make the animal’s lives at the Houston Zoo the best they can be.

Tammy BuhrmesterFrom October 12-15, more than 70 orangutan experts gathered for the 9th annual Orangutan SSP Husbandry Workshop, which was held in Wichita, Kansas.  Two keepers from the primate department were included in this assembly of experts. The workshop covered many topics, including husbandry, behavioral enrichment, veterinary techniques, training and conservation.  Each day specific topics were presented and discussed.  The first day covered SSP (Species Survival Plan) updates and ongoing projects to aid the orangutans in zoos and in the wild. Did you know that 54 North American zoos house 219 orangutans?  We learned that Cheyenne, one of our orangutans, is the 3rd oldest hybrid female in captivity in the United States. We discovered that this is the first time in a very long time that we have equal amount of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans in captivity. We discussed how taking pictures of and notes about our orangutan’s teeth can aid in establishing the age of orangutans in the wild.  Did you know that they have the same number of teeth that we do?  Aging is done by counting how many teeth the youngsters from the age of 0-12 have behind their canine teeth and when they come in.

We also were honored to hear a lecture by Lone Droscher Nielsen, a woman who founded the world’s largest orangutan rehabilitation center in Borneo.  Through all of her dedication and hard work, Nyaru Menteng is the biggest orangutan sanctuary in the world, with over 600 young orangutans in its care. 148 of these animals have been released and another 100 currently are eligible for release as space becomes available. Each confiscated baby orangutan that they care for represents one adult female who was killed when her forest home was destroyed.

On the second day, we covered maternal care, nutrition, cardiac care and veterinary care. We heard how Utah’s Hogle Zoo taught their 9 year old female orangutan to mother her new little brother after their mother passed away.  We discussed pregnancies (normal and high-risk), births, and maternal care training for mothers expecting babies. Two zoos presented together on how they are helping other zoo’s monitor cardiac care.  The number one cause for death in orangutans in captivity is heart disease. Many zoos are training their orangutans to present their chest to their keeper and vet in order to take ultrasound pictures of their hearts.  It is a training technique that takes time, patience and trust.  It is very hard to explain to an orangutan that we are going to smear a gooey substance on their chest and then take a plastic stick that is hooked to a machine and place it on their chest!

The veterinary portion covered many topics such as parasite control, teeth cleaning, dry skin treatment, chronic respiratory disease, how to disinfect properly, cardiac care, weights, diet preparation and vitamins.

The third day consisted of management and husbandry practices. We discussed many topics, such as nesting behaviors, shifting, enrichment, training, growth charts for infants, exhibit design, introductions, and problem solving. This was our day to do a presentation about flexible social housing of orangutans.  We use this technique as a management tool that mimics what can happen in the wild.  If you spent a couple of days in front of the orangutan exhibit, you would see a different combination of animals out on exhibit. You might see Kelly and Rudi on exhibit together, then another day you may see Kelly and Indah together.  You might see them alone. (Orangutans in nature are semi-solitary and do spend time on their own, with the exception of mothers and infants.)

Orangutan

On the last day, topics included past, present and future management, and conservation. We learned about several zoos that are designing new exhibits and night houses.  We were honored to watch two presentations on two elderly female orangutans, Maggie and Daisy, who have helped their species because their keepers have shared knowledge about their husbandry. A presentation followed by a discussion of how zoos and keepers can educate their guests about orangutans in the wild was also held.

Going to workshops and conferences offer many educational opportunities for zoo staff.  No matter how experienced we are, there is always room to learn more.  Networking with peers offers time to discuss problems, spark ideas and get to know each other.  Discovering new products, husbandry tools, and enrichment and training techniques will only make the animal’s lives better.  Attending workshops has allowed the staff to learn new things which help to make each individual animal at every zoo enjoy a high quality of life, and that is the goal that all of us share.



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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.

Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this: RainbowBridge Author Unknown Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

Is this the one that had the limp?

Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.

Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️

Run free in the heavens, your limp is no more. Prayers for all his caretakers at the Houston Zoo

What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff

Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.

Thinking of you all. What an amazing life he had thanks to the dedication of the zoo staff! ❤️

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.

Aww, so very sorry for your loss, Houston. Condolences to his keepers and all who loved him. ((((Lorie Fortner)))) He surely lived a long life with the great care he received at Houston.

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.

So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received

I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.

Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

I fell for the mouse thing too..

My gutters had glaciers in them!

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Ashley Nguyen

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Vicente Gonzalez

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