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Singapore Zoo Orangutan Program

Discussion in 'Singapore' started by Anmltrnr98, 6 May 2022.

  1. Anmltrnr98

    Anmltrnr98 Active Member

    28 Jul 2018
    In late 2019 I had the chance to visit all four parks that make up Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). Overall, I was really impressed by the facilities and I hope US facilities copy some of their innovations!

    One thing that I'm still thinking about almost three years later is the Orangutan program at Singapore Zoo. I haven't been able to find much information about the program or collection online and I wanted to see how folx felt about different components of the program.

    Now, SZ does have a bit of an advantage as the climate of Singapore closely parallels that of Orangutan endemic ranges in Borneo and Sumatra. As a result the exhibits are just naturally more lush and they are able to keep the Orangutans out all year. But the amazing part is the seeming lack of containment. All around the two exhibits listed on the map (more traditional island and covered exhibits home to Adult males throughout my two days at the park) were a network of trees COVERED in Orangutans. Unlike US aerial pathways, these exhibits were just networks of real trees, augmented with a few hammocks and artificial vines, with some hot wire to keep the animals along the prescribed path. It seemed like there were two or three family groups out at any given time.

    Can you spot the Orangutans?

    This picture gives you some sense of scale. One of my biggest questions is how many Orangutans live at the facility? I saw another thread from 2007 that listed 25, but can't find any official sources to verify that number.

    Keeper interactions:

    It seems like the females and juveniles are managed free contact, and the males are managed via protected contact. This video from 2020 shows the keeper sharing space with the Orangutans:

    Are there other respected facilities that are free contact with orangutans? The only other facilities that do it are also located in southeast Asia and present Circus style shows with Orangutans in human clothing, wearing diapers, etc. In the US, Orangutans are considered "potentially dangerous" animals, and every facility I'm aware of has strict safety protocols in place for them. Though I also can't find any information of a human-orangutan altercation in any context.

    Guest interactions:

    Until the pandemic, Singapore Zoo also ran a "breakfast with the Orangutans" program. This is the component that I am perhaps the most conflicted about. I am curious to hear your thoughts.

    First, a brief description: for an additional fee (I believe it was about USD $60 for an adult), guests can enjoy a breakfast buffet in close proximity to the Orangutans. The buffet is great. More extensive and higher quality than any US theme park food I've seen. After everyone is seated, a tree (powered by hydraulics) slowly falls to connect the Orangutan aerial pathway with the restaurant. The orangutans climb down and sit on a platform. Several keepers meet them there and offer high-value foods to keep the Orangutans on the platform. Table by table, guests are called up to take photos with the animals. While physical contact is not allowed, guests are able to stand within inches of the animals. While the animals are on the platform, there is a staff member on the microphone giving general info on the apes, answering questions, and moving the photo line along. After 30 minutes on the platform, the Orangutans climbed back up the tree to the aerial pathway.

    I'm left conflicted because this was an amazing experience for me personally. I can't express how moving it was to be in such close proximity to those animals. But....

    Were they trained using only the most positive, least intrusive methods? It appeared that they were stationed on the platform using rewards-based methods, but I do wonder if there was a component of dominance-based training to discourage moving of the platform, touching guests, etc.

    Does regular human interaction impede their normal social behavior? 30 minutes 1x/day doesn't seem bad to me?

    Is there a safety concern? I can't find reports of any incidents during this event or otherwise.

    Is this a respectful and appropriate context to exhibit great apes? I think this is the one that gives me the most pause. On one hand, they were shown performing only species-appropriate behavior, in a natural habitat, but on the other, I don't believe that any picture of guests and animals is truly animal-centered. But is that the worst thing?

    Curious to hear all of your thoughts!
    Lankey Kong likes this.