Auckland Zoo’s orangutans are now well and truly living the high life thanks to a newly completed innovative network of aerial pathways (up to 25m high!) that enable them to behave and move as they would in the wild.

In early 2021, fellow arboreal primates, the siamangs, who share the Zoo’s South East Asia Jungle Track’s complex high canopy habitat – which reflects nature’s different layers of the rainforest canopy, will also be introduced to these pathways; the highest ‘emergent’ layer.

How the aerial pathways work

The aerial pathways are created using over 2km of three-tiered vine-like ropes that link up to nine 20 -25m high support structures – massive trunk-like cylindrical poles. Three of these poles have inside areas with ropes and ladders for the orangutans and siamangs to climb through and up to the top and out onto the ropes - that extend from the high canopy habitat right out over the Zoo’s lake.

“I long ago accepted that I was never going to be a contestant on that Ninja Warrior TV show but, seeing our three orangutans navigate their way around these extraordinary new structures with such exceptional agility and ease, makes me really quite envious of the obvious fun that they are having up there”. says Auckland Zoo director, Kevin Buley.

Care, connection and conservation

This uniquely stimulating and dynamic environment that we’ve built for them is focused on ensuring that they can live out their amazing arboreal lifestyles as fully as possible. In doing so, we’ve also created a spectacular new opportunity and perspective for our visitors to experience and appreciate these primates,” says Kevin

For Auckland Zoo Primate team leader, Amy Robbins, who has worked with the Zoo’s orangutans for 20 years and with orangutans in the wild, the achievement of having the orangutans ranging across the aerial pathways is “an absolute dream come true”.

“Last week before opening when we first gave the orangutans the opportunity to explore these aerial pathways was without a doubt the best day of my entire career! It’s the culmination of what we’ve all been working towards for so many years. As keepers, we really appreciated being involved with the designers who valued our knowledge and experience. We spend our lives working with and observing these exceptionally intelligent animals’ movements and behaviour, and when it comes to a complex creation like these aerial pathways, the devil’s in the detail,” explains Amy.

“As we predicted, our very brave and confident female Melur was the first to go up, followed by Charlie and Wanita. It was incredible to see the natural instincts of all three so quickly kick in.  We all felt so proud of them!  

“In every way these aerial pathways, like the other features of their habitat, give them so many choices and enriching opportunities that enhance their physical health – including their immune systems and strength, and their psychological well-being. We’ve taken the best of all that we’ve seen internationally, and I believe what we have is the best habitat in a zoo for orangutans and siamangs anywhere in the world,” says Amy.

We’ve taken the best of all that we’ve seen internationally, and I believe what we have is the best habitat in a zoo for orangutans and siamangs anywhere in the world

Amy Robbins, Primate team leader

Use of the aerial pathways

While Zoo visitors could be sitting on Te Puna café’s deck enjoying lunch or a latte and experience the orangutans ranging across the lake it overlooks, or viewing them up on the aerial pathways from other areas – don’t expect to see them on these pathways all the time.

“Our whole philosophy of care for the orangutans and siamangs is to maximise their natural curiosity, to keep life stimulating and unpredictable as it would be in the wild, and to interpret their behaviour that enables us to respond to what they’re wanting,” explains Amy.

“This means there will be times of the day when the orangutans want to rest in the shade of their habitat or come down to the next canopy layer to feed, and we may shut off access to the aerial pathways for a short time. In doing so, we believe when they are given the option to go back up, it’ll feel like another new experience.”


Our orangutans return to Auckland!

We follow primate team leader Amy and the Auckland Zoo team as they welcome our orangutan trio back home and into their world-leading high canopy habitat