Both Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) and Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii) are represented at Zoo Atlanta, which is home to the nation’s largest zoological collection of orangutans. Sumatran orangutans are currently classified as critically endangered; their cousins the Bornean orangutans are listed as endangered. Both species exist only in Indonesia, where Sumatran orangutans, which occupy the smaller range of the two, number fewer than 7,000. The current rate of decline suggests that as many as 5,000 orangutans a year are killed or displaced by habitat destruction for palm oil plantations, overharvesting for timber, human encroachment, and capture for the entertainment and pet trades.
Meet the orangutans
Biji Date of birth: October 18, 1970
Birthplace: Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center
Biji is the oldest orangutan at Zoo Atlanta. She’s never had close relationships with the other females in her groups, usually preferring to sit up high during feedings. She will dangle her arms off the edge of the climber to indicate that she is ready to catch; then the keepers just have to work on their aim!
Alan Date of birth: May 3, 1971
Birthplace: Saint Louis Zoological Park
Alan usually makes a vocalization called a long call at least once a day. In the wild, mature male orangutans use this impressive call to warn other males away or to advertise their presence to females. Air pushed through their air sacs amplifies the sound; a mature male Sumatran orangutan’s noticeable cheek pads may also play a role in amplifying a long call. Alan engages in male territorial displays, which may also involve shaking, hitting or throwing things around, but he has a laid-back personality. He enjoys just sitting and watching the world go by.
Date of birth: December 17, 1977
Birthplace: Yerkes Research Language Center
Hybrid Sumatran/ Bornean orangutan
Chantek was taught sign language as an infant – he knows about 150 signs. Some of them are modified ASL (American Sign Language) signs because his hands and fingers are too large to perform the detailed ASL signs. He also understands most spoken English. Although he is shy, and will very often not look directly at strangers, he is very observant and is often listening to everything you say. Chantek enjoys painting, stringing beads, and constructing things.
Date of birth: March 6, 1979
Birthplace: Born in captivity
Benny arrived to Zoo Atlanta with Nicky in 2010, and Benny was recommended to breed by the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP). Benny and Nicky are here at Zoo Atlanta while their new exhibit is under construction at the Indianapolis Zoo. He enjoys playing and hiding under sheets or large pieces of paper for enrichment. His favorite food item is white potatoes, but instead of eating them, he likes peel them and play with them all day long. He sometimes can be heard making whistling noises with them!
Date of birth: May 13, 1983
Birthplace: Zoo Atlanta
Madu is a computer whiz and an active participant at the Orangutan Learning Tree. Her gregarious personality and relationship with her keepers led her to be chosen to rear Bernas, later followed by surrogate motherhood of Dumadi and Remy. She proved to the keepers that for a small treat, she would reliably bring infants to the mesh for bottle feedings.
Date of birth: February 9, 1992
Birthplace: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
Miri is famous for her “kiss squeaking” – a vocalization orangutans use when they are nervous, upset or seeking attention. (This is also a good reason never to make that noise to an orangutan!) Miri is very playful and is a talented nest-maker; she likes to jump and roll in her nests at night.
Date of birth: January 20, 1996
Birthplace: Audubon Zoo
Blaze, who arrived at Zoo Atlanta in 2010 from Audubon Zoo, makes squeaking noises at keepers during training sessions or when she is receiving something she enjoys. Two of Blaze’s favorite things are corn and walking around covered in sheets!
Date of birth: July 27, 2002
Birthplace: Zoo Atlanta
When Bernas is inside, he will push his corn cobs out the mesh to his keepers with his lips when he’s finished eating them. He also does this with his orange peels. Bernas has become a wonderful older foster brother to Dumadi and Remy, and they play often.
Date of birth: November 30, 2003
Birthplace: Zoo Atlanta; offspring of Miri and Sulango
Satu’s name means “first,” and he’s so named because he was the first Bornean orangutan born at Zoo Atlanta. He was also the first offspring of Miri and Sulango, as well as the first orangutan to participate in an awake cardiac ultrasound. Firsts all around!
Date of birth: October 22, 2006
Birthplace: Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Dumadi’s mother died shortly after his birth, and the OrangutanSSPrecommended that he move to Atlanta to be reared by super foster mom Madu. Like Madu, he’s a bit of a computer whiz, and he enjoys wrestling and playing with Remy.
Rembulan Wajah (Remy)
Date of birth: November 26, 2010
Birthplace: Fort Worth Zoo
Remy’s mother became too ill to care for him at the time of his birth so, like Dumadi, he was recommended by the Orangutan SSP to come to Atlanta to be fostered by Madu. His name means “moon face,” and he has a fondness for blueberries!
Date of birth: January 10, 2013
Birthplace: Zoo Atlanta
Blaze, a 16-year-old Sumatran orangutan, gave birth to a male infant on January 10, 2013. The newborn was delivered via Caesarean section with the consultation of an extensive pre-appointed medical team that comprised human obstetricians, neonatologists and veterinary anesthesiologists. After several weeks of consistent daily introductions, Blaze and Pongo began living together full-time in March of 2013 and have been bonding ever since.