NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A German zoo is sending its last orangutan to Louisiana, and he’s already learning some English.
Jambi is a 22-year-old Sumatran orangutan, a critically endangered species of the red-haired Asian great apes.
He’ll travel 5,000 miles (8,050 kilometers) from Hannover Adventure Zoo to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, where he will join three females: Reese, Feliz, and Feliz’s daughter, Menari.
But first, Jambi must spend about a month out of view at the Dallas Zoo, which is approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a quarantine location for imported primates.
Although Hannover gave Jambi a farewell party Aug. 31, he’s moving to Dallas this week, accompanied by a German keeper and one from Audubon, Joel M. Hamilton, vice president and general curator at the Audubon Zoo, said Friday.
He said Audubon’s keeper needs to learn about both Jambi’s behavior and German-language cues for medical procedures such as “open your mouth” and “show me your fingers.”
“Coming from Germany, he (Jambi) may not speak English that well. The Hannover folks have been utilizing more commands in English to help him understand,” Hamilton said. He said the trip, plus a couple of days together in Dallas, “will give our staff a chance to learn some of the German commands so we can continue working on that transition.”
The Hannover Zoo’s two other orangutans moved last year to the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas.
Keepers at the Fort Worth Zoo expected to need hand signals because Zora and Kajan had never been exposed to a language other than German. However, zoo spokeswoman Alexis Wilson said, the primates already knew everything they needed to: an open door with food beyond it meant it was time to move.
The species has been drastically reduced, both by hunting and devastation of its habitat from illegal logging and the conversion of rainforests into palm oil plantations.
Hannover decided to stop exhibiting orangutans because its 38-year-old enclosure didn’t meet modern standards, said a statement relayed by Audubon Nature Institute spokeswoman Lauren Messina Conrad.
“We are very sad to part from the orangutans since they are gorgeous and we really, really love them. We are very happy that all of them have found such lovely new places and can help to save their endangered species,” the statement said.
Hamilton said Jambi will continue behind the scenes for a while at Audubon as he is introduced to the females.
Menari, who was born at Audubon, and Reese, born at Albuquerque BioPark Zoo in New Mexico, are both 9 years old. Feliz is 29.
Orangutans can live into their 50s.
Menari’s father, Berani, moved to the Denver Zoo earlier this year.
Menari and Feliz are both good genetic matches for Jambi, who is from a strain new to the population of orangutans in the U.S., Hamilton said. He said Reese is on birth control.