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A day in the life of the Orangutan Care Team

Hi everyone, it’s Courtney again from the Orangutan Care Team! Today I wanted to talk about what a typical day looks like as a member of the Orangutan Care Team here at Zoo Atlanta. You probably have some sort of an idea of what we do throughout the day, but I wanted to give some insight into the long days spent caring for the 10 amazing orangutans here at the Zoo.

My morning starts around 5:30 a.m. when my alarm goes off, and I am headed to work by 6:30 a.m. to make it to the Zoo by 7 a.m. The Orangutan Team has a quick meeting to plan out the day and then gets to work. First things first, we check on the orangutans in their indoor areas and make sure everyone is doing well, and then everyone gets some of their primate biscuits for breakfast and any medications they may be on.

Then we prepare the habitats for the day by cleaning up any old food from the previous day and adding new food and enrichment. We also safety-check the habitats to make sure everything is safe and secure for the orangutans. And then it’s time to shift the orangutans from their indoor spaces out onto habitat for the day. We try to get everyone outside between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. If we have any extra time before shifting the orangutans outside, we will use that time to do positive reinforcement training sessions, obtain monthly weights, or do some extra habitat cleaning.

Once everyone is in their outdoor habitats for the day, the care team gets busy cleaning their indoor night areas. Any old or dirty hay is pulled and replaced with fresh hay for the orangutans to use as nesting materials. The floors, walls, toys, and firehose props are hosed down and scrubbed with soap or disinfectant and rinsed again. After cleaning is finished, we check on all the orangutans again and usually toss more enrichment onto habitat. This time of year, their favorite midday enrichment items are ice treats, which are juice frozen with peanuts, banana, sunflower seeds, or grapes inside.

This brings us to lunchtime! The Orangutan Care Team breaks for an hour before continuing with the day. After human lunch, it’s time for orangutan lunch. All the orangutans get their fruit tossed to them out on habitat. If it’s a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, one of the care team will give a Keeper Talk during the fruit feedings as well. The feedings and Keeper Talk usually bring us to about 2 p.m.,  and then it’s time to prepare everything for closing and for the next day.

The care team preps orangutan diets for the next day, which includes weighing out primate biscuits and chopping fruit and veggies into the appropriate sizes. We also prepare the orangutans’ afternoon enrichment and cut browse materials from our Primate Browse Garden behind the scenes. This is also the time when we can focus on projects – building new enrichment items, renovating habitat spaces, extra cleaning, etc.

Our closing routine starts around 3:30 p.m., when we shift the first group off their habitat and into their indoor behind-the-scenes night area, and the last group shifts inside at 4:45 p.m. We shift in one habitat at a time to ensure we have enough time to spend with each group. Orangutans receive the rest of their primate biscuits, any medications they need, and juice in the afternoon. Once everyone finishes their dinner, they get their afternoon enrichment and browse. This is also a great time to do positive reinforcement training sessions if there is extra time during closing.

The care team then does one last check on the orangutans and locks up the building. Once the building is secure, the team finishes up any dishes that may need to be washed. Throughout the day, we also make sure to update animal records with things like how much of their diet was consumed and which enrichment items were given. We wrap up the day at 5:30 or 6:30 p.m. on the weekends.

There you have it – a very brief rundown of what the Orangutan Care Team does throughout the day, but the fun thing about working with animals is that every day is a little bit different, and they certainly keep us on our toes!

Courtney S.
Keeper II, Primates

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