Kia ora! My name is Tara and I work as a Product Facilitator at Auckland Zoo. I help deliver a range of unforgettable experiences offered at the Zoo to people of all ages and backgrounds. The experiences I’ve been a part of include Photography Workshops, Junior Keeper, and Night Safaris. I joined in December 2019 with a passion for bringing people together to help protect the environment.   

During level 4 lockdown, I had the amazing opportunity to help the primate team with their orangutan observations. This job was an essential service as the orangutans had recently arrived back from Christchurch and were settling into their new habitat. They needed to be monitored for overall well-being and how they were utilising their new environment. Auckland Zoo has three Bornean orangutans called Charlie, Melur, and Wanita. Charlie is a 39-year-old male and is the biggest of all three. Melur and Wanita are both female and are 31 and 41-years-old respectively. Wanita has the darkest coloured hair, and a fringe that resembles your fav grandma!

Observing these incredible primates has taught me about their interesting behavioural patterns (quirks and all!), and I became familiar with their routine during the lockdown. From approximately 9:00 am till 3:00 pm, I would note down where they were and what they were doing in their habitat every five minutes on a spreadsheet. This required me to be vigilant and maintain on-going communication with the keepers.

The new habitat for the orangutans is incredible. In their current habitat, there are nine 8 metre-high canopy climbers that are connected to each other by rope pathways. The climbers offer different levels for them to move around on, rest and feed arboreally. In between each canopy climber grows a range of plants and trees. The trees are mostly Brachychiton species, and there is a large Sapote (a type of custard apple). There is also a climbing vine called Tecomanthe, which grows up the canopy climbers.

Some canopy climbers have arboreal feeders attached at the top which are filled with leafy greens, browse and behavioural enrichment. These feeders encourage natural behaviours like tool use and foraging and they also help to lengthen feeding times and ensure food is evenly shared amongst the orangutans. All three of them look really comfortable settling into their new home and have been utilising all areas of the space as intended. This includes climbing, sitting, swinging to and from each canopy climber, and using the ropes that attach to these climbers to move through the trees.

Like all of the species at Auckland Zoo, our orangutans are able to choose where they’d like to go - whether that’s inside or outside. The new habitat features a ‘shared shelter’ – a space where primates and visitors can come together, giving our visitors the opportunity to see Charlie, Melur and Wanita up close. This area provides our primates shelter from wind and rain as well as heating through inclement weather. The keepers also complete training sessions with them most days to make sure they are fit and healthy.

Being a part of their acclimation process has been a truly special experience. I feel very lucky to be part of such a dedicated team who are passionate about animal welfare and conservation. Auckland Zoo will open again on Wednesday 27 May and while the primate section of the South East Asia Jungle Track is not yet open to visitors, you’ll be able to see our orangutans from outside the track if they happen to be grazing atop one of their canopy climbers – an amazing sight to see!