Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Orangutans, Education, and Palm Oil Awareness

Meet their Orangutans: Five orangutans currently reside at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZ).

Baka is a male Sumatran orangutan, his full name is Baka-keri.  He is the grandson of Fu-Manchu, 
the famous orangutan that lived at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and used to pick locks. One story says that Fu-Manchu hid a metal pin in his lip and when keepers left for the day, he let himself out of his enclosure.  Baka was born at Calgary Zoo in Canada on June 15, 1990.  Baka has been a father twice, his older son Makan now lives at the Sacramento Zoo and his son Godek is at CMZ.  He is quite playful and gentle with his offspring.

Sumagu is a female Sumatran orangutan who was born at CMZ on October 10, 1987.  Godek is her second baby and she is a great mom. Sumagu’s mother, Sandra, raised nine offspring so successfully that Sumagu learned excellent maternal skills from her own mother.  Sumagu is fairly sensitive and suspicious about changes in her routine or environment.  If she is unsure about something, she will find a comfortable spot and sit still and simply watch everything that is going on, moving only her eyes (earning her the nickname “shifty-eyes”).

Hadiah is a female Bornean orangutan who was born at CMZ on June 8, 1996.
Hadiah has given birth to one baby, named Mahal, but Hadiah was very young at the time and could not take care of Mahal properly. Mahal now lives at Milwaukee County Zoo with a surrogate mother.  Hadiah is one of the most genetically valuable orangutans in the U.S.

Tujoh is a male Bornean orangutan.  His name means “seven” in Indonesian; we believe he was his mother’s seventh offspring.  Tujoh was born at the Phoenix Zoo on April 30, 1994, and came to CMZ in 2000.  He likes to clog the water lixits and make watery messes in his exhibit, but he is also trained to un-clog the lixit on cue when asked.  He is the largest male orangutan at CMZ. In 2011, he weighed 300 pounds.

Godek is a male Sumatran orangutan who was born on February 19, 2009.
He is Sumagu and Baka’s son.  Godek’s favorite play-mate is his father, Baka.  Sumagu did not allow Baka to touch or play with either of their sons when they were tiny infants, but they were allowed to play with their gentle father when they were a bit older. Godek is constantly climbing and playing throughout the day, and rarely sits still.

Education & Awareness

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Orangutan Art

Numerous zoos have trained their orangutans to paint and after realizing the potential of orangutans in zoos to contribute towards wild orangutan conservation, we decided to see if our animals were interested. October 17, 2008 was the first day of painting training with our orangutans. As with all of the other behaviors we work on, we use only positive reinforcement.  The orangutans choose whether or not they want to paint.  The first sessions resulted in a few simple dots of paint on the paper and a lot of broken paint brushes.  By giving small treats each time the artist dipped their brush into the paint, and each time he or she then touched the brush to the paper, the orangutans quickly caught on to the process.  Within a week or two, the four adult orangutans were creating unique pieces of art!

One benefit of the Orangutan Art program is that the training sessions enrich the orangutans’ lives and stimulate their minds.  CMZ is very proud to provide this unique opportunity for their orangutans to help their wild counterparts. Every time a painting is purchased, 50% of the proceeds go to orangutan conservation.  We know that every time someone looks at a piece of orangutan art displayed in their home or office, they will be reminded of how amazing and intelligent these great apes are!  The orangutan paintings are displayed and sold in a gallery in Primate World at CMZ, and can also be purchased here on our website.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and Palm Oil Awareness

Palm oil, when produced unsustainably, results in deforestation and has become the biggest threat to the survival of orangutans.  Palm oil is used in many everyday items, from cookies to cosmetics, and as a source of biofuel. In 2010 several staff members from CMZ led a trip to Indonesia and Malaysia, where wild orangutans live, to provide an in-depth look at the palm oil crisis.  The returned with valuable research to share with CMZ guests and also with other zoos.  As a result of this trip, CMZ has created a palm oil awareness tool kit available via .ftp site, with the purpose of sharing high quality graphic files with other zoos.  This tool kit and the staff members eye opening experiences were presented in 2010 at the AZA National Conference in Houston, as well as at the Orangutan SSP Workshop in Denver.  CMZ has also established a palm oil listserv as a forum for sharing palm oil news and developments with other zoo professionals.  In January 2010 CMZ conducted a detailed survey to gain baseline information on palm oil awareness efforts in zoos, and over 300 zoo professionals responded.  In November of 2010 CMZ officially became a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), becoming the first zoo to do so.  The RSPO is a non-profit association of international stakeholders from across the palm oil industry, including producers, processors, retailers, and conservation NGOs.  The goal is to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil. To learn more about CMZ’s palm oil awareness efforts, check out this link.

Q4C (Quarters for Conservation) at CMZ

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo initiated its Q4C program in 2008; an overview can be found here. Staff members at CMZ submit conservation project ideas which are evaluated and then chosen based on rigorous criteria.  Only six projects are chosen to be voted on each year.  Every single zoo guest pays an additional $.25 and receives a token.  Q4C voting kiosks in the front entry plaza encourage guests to vote for their favorite project.  In 2008 a reforestation project on the island of Borneo was one of the projects chosen to receive funds.  In 2009-11 Cheyenne
Mountain Zoo developed a palm oil awareness program, which has been one of the Q4C champion projects.  Q4C funds enabled visits to certified sustainable palm oil plantations and mills, the opportunity to observe the rehabilitation and care of displaced, injured, and orphaned orangutans, positive learning experiences about ecotourism, reforestation, and other issues people face in Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as the chance to participate in many meetings.  Q4C funds have also made the creation of the .ftp site tool kit possible, and the letter-writing computer tool. Learn more about the Q4C projects here.

Orangutan Natural Behavior Show at CMZ

The orangutans at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo have worked with their trainers,
learning to exhibit some natural behaviors, behaviors they would do in the wild to help them survive in the rainforest.  Climbing, brachiating, balancing, swinging, tool-use, and covering up with a leaf-shaped umbrella are just a few of the amazing behaviors that guests get the chance to experience, while an interpreter explains the significance of each behavior and how special these apes are.  The animals are trained using only positive reinforcement techniques and they seem to enjoy the training sessions.  Sharing orangutans natural behaviors are a fun way for guests to learn what they can do to help these animals wild counterparts as well as promoting the use of sustainable palm oil.

Orangutan Awareness Events at CMZ

CMZ participated in the MOM event (Missing Orangutan Mothers) in 2008-2010, which included enrichment activities, letter-signing, an orangutan painting demonstration and natural behavior show, and palm oil awareness discussions with zoo guests.  In 2011 CMZ changed the event dates to coincide with two spring break weekends and called the event “Red Ape Rally Days.”  These days included all the fun activities from previous years but added a new grocery store game for kids.  A simplified version of CMZ’s palm oil shopping guide was created featuring logos and kids played a matching game at a pretend grocery store and quickly learned how to find orangutan-friendly choices to put in their shopping bags.  Parents were very interested in taking the adult version of the shopping guide.

During June 2009 and 2010 AAZK (American Association of ZooKeepers) held an evening event called Swinging in the Rainforest.  This was a fundraiser benefiting various orangutan conservation projects in Indonesia and Malaysia.  Funds were raised through ticket sales and silent auction sales.  The orangutans painted many group masterpieces for this event and AAZK received generous donations from zoos, orangutan conservation groups and individuals.  A unique and fun aspect to of this event was for attendees to vote on which conservation projects they wanted to support.  A tree represented each project (posted with a helpful summary) and guests could vote with a leaf –  they could also purchase extra votes of increasing value:  leaves, durian fruit,s and orangutans.

In 2009 Barb Shaw, orangutan conservationist, presented her amazing experiences for the attendees.  In 2010 Dina Bredahl,Tracey Gazibara, and Mandy Hester (CMZ staff members) presented on their experiences while researching the palm oil crisis in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Orangutan Education Programs at CMZ

CMZ has been busy educating a variety of audiences about orangutans and when appropriate, the palm oil crisis.

  • Since 2008, at least one preschool program session a year has been dedicated to orangutans, including “Animal Artists,”  “1,2 Count the Zoo,” and “Party with the Primates.” Our new stroller program, debuting in 2010, included learning about orangutans in “Moms and Babies.” In both of these programs, age-appropriate messages are given to the participants including short conservation conversations with the parents. In December 2010, CMZ hosted a family program dedicated to Apes. During this program, participants learned about orangutans and gorillas and the steps they could take to help protect them and their native habitats.
  • The Zoo has hosted an Annual Girl Scout Day for years. Since 2008, the Zoo has created a passport for different learning stations throughout the facility. From that point forward, we have had a specific table on palm oil during our annual Girl Scout Day event. This is an opportunity for us to create awareness about the crisis and let Girl Scouts know what they can do to help orangutans. Each year has included an update on the most relevant conservation methods regarding palm oil, based on the Zoo’s Palm Oil Awareness Campaign. In 2011, we were pleased to be able to highlight the updated palm oil shopping guide and shopping game for the participating girl scouts.
  • In February 2010, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo hosted a one-day Teacher Workshop on Primates. During this workshop orangutans and the palm oil crisis were presented and discussed along with current shopping guides and conservation actions that could be taken by an individual as well as by a group.
  • During the summer of 2010, CMZ presented a Summer Camp theme dedicated to “Playful Primates.” This camp theme, offered for ages 7-12, included a variety of crafts, activities, and special presentations in which the participants were able to learn about primates, including orangutans and the palm oil crisis. The campers’ even slept in the Primate World building one night for a more up-close experience.
  • In April 2011, CMZ took the Palm Oil Awareness campaign off the mountain during Colorado Springs’ Annual Pikes Peak Earth Day event. During this event, staff talked with adults about the palm oil crisis, the importance of the RSPO, and the palm oil shopping guide. The Palm Oil Shopping Game was also played with kids and families to help them understand the need to be conscientious shoppers.