Keeper Stories – Tuesday, April 4
It is amazing how fast time flies, especially as we see our young orangutans grow and develop! I can’t believe it has been almost two years since Keju was born at the Henry Vilas Zoo. Keju’s name means “cheese” in Indonesian, and she was named by the staff at Henry Vilas to honor her Wisconsin roots. Keju’s mom, Kawan, was not showing proper maternal care, and the Henry Vilas staff did amazing work raising Keju and teaching Kawan maternal skills, but unfortunately after several months Kawan still did not properly care for Keju, so Keju was sent to Zoo Atlanta in hopes Madu would adopt her.
Madu had adopted and raised three orangutan infants before, but they were all boys – so we hoped she would do as well with a girl – and she did! Madu immediately picked up Keju and started to care for her. Since Madu does not produce milk, we needed to bottle-feed Keju throughout the day and night. Madu is trained to bring Keju up to the mesh in their indoor area so we can bottle feed her through the mesh. There is always a protective barrier between us and the orangutans (they are super strong and could unintentionally hurt us) – so once Madu adopted Keju – it was hands off for Keju too – she lived completely with the orangutans. Now, as Keju has grown, she is down to two bottles during the day and no more nighttime feedings. She also now eats more of the food the other orangutans eat – apples, bananas, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, lettuce, etc.
It has been a pleasure watching Keju grow and become more confident and independent in her orangutan family. When Keju first arrived, she was timid with exploring new areas or items and clung to Madu tightly until she became more comfortable. Now, she more often leaves Madu to play with the boys or climb the ropes! She wrestles with both her foster brothers, Remy and Dumadi, and has recently become more comfortable approaching the adult male in the group, Chantek – who sits still waiting for her approach.
Madu has once again proven to be an excellent teacher. The other day, Madu was teaching Keju how to climb the high ropes by moving a few feet away on the ropes and encouraging Keju to follow her. Also, if Keju doesn’t know how to obtain food from a new enrichment item, she watches Madu and then tries the same technique – usually successfully.
Keju makes a game out of everything, whether it is jumping on a large barrel enrichment toy as if it were a trampoline, or rolling around with large pieces of paper we provide for nesting materials. She seems to have fun with everything! She is also becoming more vocal – making squeaks, raspberry or grunting sounds to get the other orangutans’ (or keepers’) attention!
All AZA zoos work together, and zookeepers stay in touch with each other as animals travel between zoos – providing updates and photos – our animals are extremely important to all of us – so we like to stay in touch! So, last year, I jumped at the chance to visit the Henry Vilas Zoo for an Orangutan Workshop and present on Keju’s progress and visit with the staff at Henry Vilas. But I was also excited to meet Keju’s orangutan parents, Kawan and Datu. It was amazing to watch them and see elements of Keju’s personality and physical traits in both – she resembles both, and so many times, I saw the same facial expressions on them that I have seen from her. It was also great to talk with the staff and share stories and hear how similar Keju is to her parents in many ways.
I have enjoyed watching Keju grow and discover new things and cannot believe she is about to turn 2 years old. To celebrate this milestone, we will be celebrating her birthday this Saturday, April 8, at 2 p.m. at Orangutan Habitat 2 (her actual birthday is April 9, but we wanted to celebrate a day early). We have lots of surprises in store and plan to make this a fun day filled with enrichment for her! Please plan on joining us and wishing a very Happy Birthday to our youngest orangutan, Keju!
Lead Keeper, Primates