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December 3, 2001

Last Yerkes orangutan off to new home at L.A. Zoo

By Poul Olson


Yerkes ended a proud chapter in its history last month with the transfer of Minyak, the last remaining member of an orangutan colony that once numbered 36, to the ownership of the Los Angeles Zoo. The 20-year-old Bornean orangutan currently is being housed in temporary quarters at Zoo Atlanta until the L.A. Zoo can accept him permanently.

Orangutans have been used in a variety of behavioral, communication and evolutionary studies at Yerkes since its earliest days in Orange Park, Fla. But as the center’s research focus has shifted over the last decade, the need for orangutans has declined. For his part, Minyak has not been enrolled in a study since 1996.

Finding a new home for Minyak was a challenging endeavor for Yerkes. According to Eliza-beth Strobert, acting associate director for animal resources, zoos and sanctuaries are reluctant to adopt young adult Bornean orangutans out of preference for their even rarer Sumatran cousins. Compounding the situation was Minyak’s chronic respiratory problems. Most recently, he fought a persistent bout of pneumonia.

Until the L.A. Zoo can take Minyak, Zoo Atlanta is housing him in the same enclosure that contained the late silverback gorilla Willie B.

Minyak will not be exhibited for the public while at Zoo Atlanta. Strobert said that the L.A. Zoo has yet to determine how he will be housed there. Yerkes and the L.A. Zoo, however, have negotiated a donation agreement.

Animal care and veterinarian personnel, including James Patrick, Chris Cuppels and Rachel Fest, who worked in the Great Ape Wing with Minyak, remember him as a quiet, clean, but sometimes moody animal that displayed keen intelligence.

On occasions when the chimpanzees were being particularly noisy and boisterous, Patrick observed Minyak himself close the door separating the indoor and outdoor portions of his cage. “He clearly wanted some peace and quiet,” Patrick said.

In the wild, orangutans spend 90 percent of their lives in trees. An endangered species, they number fewer than 27,000 in the countries of Indonesia and Malaysia, whose tropical rainforests are home to the world’s population of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans.


Back to Emory Report December 3, 2001