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Joining Zoo Atlanta’s Orangutan Care Team

Hello everyone! My name is Jake Bedenbaugh, and I am the newest member of the Orangutan Care Team here at Zoo Atlanta. Before starting at Zoo Atlanta in September, I went to school at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo in Florida. College gave me the connections and experience to land my dream job working with orangutans at Zoo Atlanta. 

My whole life, I have admired orangutans and wanted to work with them. I grew up watching them on nature documentaries and TV shows, so my reaction to the news that I’d be one of their caretakers was like finding out that I would be the assistant of my favorite celebrity. I was extremely nervous and excited at the same time. My first impression when I started was how intelligent they are; it was almost overwhelming. The orangutans all knew their daily routine so well that they would sit at their designated stations before it was even asked of them. If a care team member wants something from the inside of their area, then all we would have to do is point to it and ask and they will go to retrieve it for us. Working with orangutans is not like any other primate I’ve worked with before. It is all about forming connections with every individual in a different way. The relationship between keeper and ape is built completely on trust, and I had to earn that. It is a process that we constantly work on by using positive reinforcement and getting to know them by spending time with them. 

There are many qualities about these apes that I am fascinated with, but one that especially intrigues me is their agility. Orangutans are adapted to live a completely arboreal lifestyle. Being arboreal means that they live their life in the tree canopy, rarely coming to the forest floor. Orangutans are the largest of the arboreal mammals in the world, where males can weigh up to 120 kilograms. To be this heavy, it requires a lot of strength moving through the canopy. NE Primate Conservancy estimated orangutans to have a grip strength of around 600 pounds and lift up to 500 pounds. This allows them to locomote through the trees with ease and grace. 

 One thing I love about Zoo Atlanta is how each habitat is designed specifically for the animal occupying it. Our orangutan habitats include vertical surface areas with very high platforms and networks of connecting ropes, which encourages them to stay up high where they are more comfortable. The goal is for us to mimic their wild habitat to the best of our ability. So, make sure you come by Zoo Atlanta and visit our agile apes climbing and swinging like they would in the wild! 

 Jake B.
Keeper I, Primates

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl