I have been wanting to write an update on our youngest orangutan, Redd, and his relationship with his “aunties” for quite some time. As one can imagine, our typical work day has been turned upside-down since March 14! While the Smithsonian’s National Zoo was closed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, animal keepers were on site and continued to provide for (and pamper) the animals under our care. As a fellow primate keeper detailed in our last #GorillaStory update, we assume that this novel coronavirus could pose a health risk to the non-human great apes under our care. Rest assured that our team has been taking extra steps to keep all of the primates in our unit healthy and safe during the pandemic.
Before I dive into Redd’s relationships, allow me to give some insight into orangutan behavior. Unlike other great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas) which are troop-living and gregarious, orangutans are semi-solitary in the wild. Adult males spend most of their time alone, while females are both social and highly socially tolerant—they congregate in areas where food is available while still maintaining some distance from one another.
In human care, orangutans don’t have to worry about searching for or competing for food, so they tend to be more social than their wild counterparts. Keepers have observed our orangutans grooming one another, playing together and even forming their own social hierarchies. Each orangutan has his or her own personality and makes connections with the others based on their own personal preferences, which can vary day-to-day.
So, how does Redd fit into our orangutan social network? Well, I consider him to be a very fortunate juvenile because he has plenty of opportunities to socialize here at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Not only do both of his parents live here, but also several other adult orangutans with whom he has special relationships. Let’s meet some of his buddies!
Apart from Redd’s mother, 23-year-old Batang, we have three other adult female orangutans whom we lovingly refer to as Redd’s “aunties.” They are not biologically related to Redd, but they all play an important role in his life.