#OrangutanStory: Happy 7th Birthday, Redd!

This update was written by primate keeper Erin Stromberg.

Today, we celebrate Redd’s birthday! Our youngest Bornean orangutan has officially entered his “sassy sevens” era. Over the past year, I’ve watched Redd grow more independent from his mother, Batang, and have witnessed his cleverness first-hand during our training sessions. Even though he is maturing, he is still a youngster and some things—enrichment toys in particular—certainly bring out the kid in him.

As I reflect on the past year, one thing that strikes me is how quick and stealthy Redd can be. He skillfully climbs and traverses the O-Line—the series of towers and cables that connect the orangutans’ habitats at the Great Ape House and Think Tank. Often, Batang likes to dictate when and where they travel. If she is distracted, however, Redd will take off in a flash. At one point this year, Batang was busy playing with an enrichment item in the Great Ape House outdoor habitat. Redd sneakily made it halfway to Think Tank before Batang realized he was gone!

Bornean orangutan Redd in the Think Tank habitat.
Bornean orangutan Redd relaxes in his Think Tank habitat. 

When Redd was a toddler, his sassy side came through whenever he was over-tired or if he wanted to play with the other orangutans and Batang wouldn’t let him. These days, enrichment items—such as toys and puzzle feeders—are the source of many of Redd’s tantrums.

Throughout the day, we give our orangutans multiple enrichment items to encourage their natural behaviors and help keep them physically fit and mentally sharp. Redd readily takes these items from us. The trouble is, he often tries to take these items from others, too. Namely, his doting mom and very tolerant “aunties”—Bonnie, Lucy and Iris. I suspect he is smart enough to know that his father, Kyle, and our other adult male, Kiko, will not share their enrichment or allow it to be stolen!   

Bornean orangutan Redd all bundled up in sheets at the Great Ape House.
Goodnight, Redd! The youngster curls up with a warm blanket and some hay in his night nest. 

If Batang tries to hold on to her enrichment (rightfully so), Redd will make a loud, high-pitched whine, grab at her hands and try to wrestle the item away. When he makes these vocalizations, all of the orangutans look to see if he’s in trouble. They quickly find out he is not in harm’s way—he’s just not getting his way!

When Redd does this, Bonnie is among the first to react and check on him, making sure he is ok. Bonnie has always been completely enamored with him. Often, when he whines, she hands her enrichment right over to him. Then, she seeks out keepers for more enrichment for herself!.

At 50 years old, Lucy is our oldest orangutan. She and Redd are best buddies, and they will play for hours in the Great Ape House’s outdoor habitat. All of their wrestling can wear her out a bit, both in her physical stamina and her patience.

In the afternoon, while keeper set up the indoor enclosures with enrichment, Lucy usually watches us from an elevated chute that connects the indoor and outdoor habitats. Lucy and Redd do not shift indoors together. I feel Lucy is aware of this, because when Redd will not get out of her chute so keepers can let her in, she will chase Redd out of the chute so she can go inside. After all that playing, Lucy may need some time to rest, recuperate and enjoy her enrichment in peace.

Orangutan Redd with two adult orangutans in the Great Ape House.
Redd and the adult orangutans forage from a puzzle feeder in the Great Ape House. 

Iris seems to see Redd as “one of the gang.” She is not as protective of him as Bonnie, and she does not play with him as often as Lucy. That said, they get along great and can be goofy and silly together! Essentially, she plays when she wants to, but she will also leave him behind with Lucy when that suits her. This fits right with Iris’s personality—she has a reputation for being a bit of a diva.

When Redd was younger (and much smaller), he would approach Kyle quite cautiously to make sure he wanted to play. Now, he is much more confident around him. Sometimes, Redd will just launch himself at Kyle to start a play session! Kyle will wrap Redd up in his enormous arms as they wrestle. Redd can be difficult to spot when he’s engulfed in his father’s long hair!

Whereas Kyle often calls and displays to make his presence known, Kiko is more mellow and reserved. Maybe he doesn’t feel the need to show off anymore at his age! Instead of calling, Kiko will blow raspberries to get keepers’ attention and let us know he’s ready for some food or enrichment.

Although Redd will try to steal the females’ enrichment items, he isn’t nearly as brazen with Kyle or Kiko. Kiko, especially, is a big guy—about 230 pounds compared to Redd’s 60-pound frame. Whenever Kiko is working on enrichment, Redd will get right up in his face and stare at him, hoping he’ll share. Even though he practically sits right on top of Kiko, Kiko gives Redd absolutely zero attention. Watching those two interact always makes me laugh. I wonder if Redd will ever realize that Kiko never shares!

Bornean orangutan Redd at the Great Ape House.
Redd checks out his surroundings at the Great Ape House. 

For me, the most rewarding aspect of working with Redd is training him to voluntarily participate in his own husbandry and medical care. All of our orangutans’ unique personalities shine through during training sessions. Redd is no exception. He is a fast learner and an eager student.

If Redd sees me approach with the blood pressure cuff or pulse oximeter, he eagerly shoves his fingers through the mesh to participate. If Batang sticks her fingers out, too, he often yanks her hand back to let her know it is his turn!

To ensure we can give each individual attention and minimize potential distractions, we started incorporating short separations into Redd and Batang’s training sessions. Batang is doing well with these separations and seems to enjoy one-on-one attention from keepers. Sometimes, Redd throws temper tantrums while Batang is training—not because they are separated, but because he wants the attention and food rewards that come with training! 

VIDEO | Extreme close up! Redd approaches the mesh for a training session with primate keeper Erin Stromberg. 

Redd picks up new behaviors very quickly, but has a hard time sitting still for cardiac ultrasounds and echocardiograms where readings take 30 seconds or longer. He is not fazed by the medical devices or the noises they make—he’s just a bundle of energy, always on the move.

With all medical procedures, his enthusiasm is the same. If he spies the thermometer, he’ll run up to the mesh and press his ear up against it so I can take his temperature. When he sees a syringe, he presents his leg for voluntary injection training. He has an abundance of motivation and a willingness to work that is every animal care professional’s dream!

Want to get to know our orangutans? Read past updates here. And, don’t miss the latest news about our new western lowland gorilla infant, Zahra, in these #GorillaStory updates!