Redd still has a lot more growing to do, since young male orangutans develop slowly. Much like humans, orangutans experience a testosterone spike in their late teens that changes their outward appearance. Eventually, Redd will develop large cheek pads (called “flanges”), grow long hair and double in size compared to his mother. These secondary sexual characteristics are an easy way to distinguish adult male orangutans from females.
We are able to keep track of Redd’s growth through our positive reinforcement training program. All of our animals learn behaviors that allow us to monitor their health vitals and overall wellbeing. For example, we teach them to climb upon a scale, present their ear or show us their body parts. Respectively, these procedures allow us to obtain an individual’s weight, take their temperature or look for anything out of the ordinary that may require a veterinary exam. In other words, they enable us to determine what the normal, healthy range is for each individual animal. For voluntarily participating in these training sessions, the primates receive a favorite food—typically, grapes or nuts—as a reward.
Redd actively participates in training, though he is lightening fast and not very patient! To obtain his heart rate, we have trained him to place his fingers on a mobile electrocardiogram device. This year, we introduced a doppler with ultrasound gel as an alternative device for acquiring these readings. Getting this “kid” to hold still for the required 30 seconds is the hardest part. That said, he seems to enjoy these training sessions and picks up new behaviors very quickly. It’s safe to say he’s a smart little guy.
I usually train Redd first, as Batang is much more patient than he and waits her turn. When it comes time for me to train Batang, however, he will sometimes throw temper tantrums that are loud and intense! Batang is a star at training and will carry on doing the behaviors asked of her even while her son lets out shrill cries, throws himself down on the ground and stomps around. Instead of coddling him, she will push Redd away with her foot as she continues to train.
Redd’s temper tantrums seem to intensify when he doesn’t get his way. He can be very dramatic and certainly competes for the spotlight! When he is very tired, cranky or has ben disciplined by another orangutan, he will nurse for comfort.