In this piece of content, we will talk about the life story of a captive orangutan.

Well! There are approximately 4,000 great apes (bonobos, orangutans, chimps, and gorillas) in zoos globally. However, compared to the wild primates that different naturalists such as David Attenborough or Jane Goodall have changed to global superstars, the captive orangutans have not been remembered. At the same time, their lives behind bars make them the least worthy of attention.

However, for the author of the book, “Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris,” Chris Herzfeld, captive great apes lead lived every moment as amusing as their wild fellows, in anyways, more so. By associating with the human keepers, they learn the skills that wild apes cannot learn – such as the beautiful and elaborate knots that a female captive orangutan, Wattana, links.

Talking from her house in Florida, Naples, the Belgian author verifies how demanding it is for the captive apes to be the best mothers, why animal species deserve their biographies, and how captive orangutans might benefit from the little screen time.

Not much attention is given to captive great apes, and I think it is essential to know that they also exist, life in the zoo. I do not say it is significant to make the great apes captive. Well! This is not my point. However, when they are in a zoo, there are numerous new chances to learn from the human world.

It was the case with the young female captive orangutan, Wattana, in the zoo located in Paris. The humans raised her since she was a kid and learned a new way to spend life, a combination of great ape and human way of life.

I am a philosopher of science, not a scientist. For me, it is stimulating to see great apes in the human being world as you at the nexus of nature and culture. One considers the ape in the human world is a type of denatured ape. Well! They do not have the same chance as in the wild environment. However, when they are in the human world, they make a new way to spend life as they have what I call behavioral flexibility or plasticity. It is among the chief characteristics of the great apes as well as ourselves.

You may say that we human beings do not feel it essential to ascribe the biographies to animal species. However, you studied the life story of Wattana in more detail. She did not have an easy beginning, did she?

For an extended time, we considered the biographies were for humans only. However, when I utilized time with the great apes, I think they have a life story too; they have different personalities. It was the same with Wattana. She was born in Belgium, Antwerp Zoo, and rejected by her own mother. She was the first kid, and her mother was relatively young. We consider, similar to us; female great apes have a motherly nature. However, it was not right. They need to learn to be a mom.

Do you know how do they learn this? By witnessing other mothers around them. However, in the zoo, there are not many people in the same inclusion. Thus, females have no chance to learn how to be a mom. It was the case with the mother of Wattana. She did not need to touch her child; she had no idea how to hold it. Thus, Wattana was left on the ground in the inclusion, and the zookeeper had to take good care of her.

At 3 months of age, she was shifted to the other zoo in Germany, Stuttgart, specializing in the child great apes. There, she met a lady who was best for her, named Margot Federer. She viewed that Wattana was a special child, and thus, she called her ‘little princess,’

In 1995, at Stuttgart zoo, Margot Federer cared for the little Wattana. Captive great apes associate more with humans than with several other apes.

There is a great bond captive great apes make with their keepers. Let us talk about this.

It is really essential as the captive great apes associate more with humans than with other apes. Wattana was unhappy when her friendship with Margot Federer finished, and she was shifted to Paris at 3 years of age. There she was unaccompanied with her brother, and it was essential for her to make new relationships.

Now, let us talk about the interspecies bonds. When the great apes are shifted from one zoo to the other, they keep these bonding with the zookeeper and with their relatives, which is in the same inclusion. In Wattana case, her brother shifted to Hungary. He was significant for Wattana as he was associated with her old Stuttgart world, where they slept and lived together.

The great apes can distinguish people essential to them after an extended time. Gerard Dousseau, the Jardin zookeeper, was an example. He was close to the zoo’s chimpanzees. Many years later, after transferring chimps to the other zoo, Gerard and his wife went to see them. The couple came when the great apes were taking rest in the inclusion. However, when the chimpanzees perceived this couple, Gerard and his wife, they came to the glass instantly. At other times, captive great apes can give many gifts to the keepers, such as straws pulled through the mesh.

Wattana wanted to learn how to tie the knots. At one time, she made a type of installation in her inclusion by hanging up ribbon and strings. She used everything present in the inclusion: wood, wire mesh, iron rings.

When and how did you meet Wattana? Let us put inside that time – and discuss the extraordinary abilities of Wattana to tie knots.

The first time, in Paris, I met Wattana; I gave her some paper bands and string, as someone had told me she might make knots. I considered it an essential thing because we may consider it an activity exclusive to humans. How can an ape make a knot? It was interesting to me! Therefore, I made my mind give her some ribbons and strings, which she might use to make the knots. The first time, I gave her paper bands, which she made into a knot. After that, I started to do many attempts, offering her different kind of materials she might make knots with.

Well! The basic functioning of knots for many of us is to tie and untie the shoelaces. The skill of Wattana went far beyond this, to be almost an artistic pursuit, did not it?

The knot is functional to us. We use it primarily to tie the shoelaces. However, for Wattana, it was a skill she learned when she came to the humans’ world, as we have many knots in our lives. The zookeeper explained that, even as a child, she was highly interested in making knots. As they tied their shoes’ laces, she was interested that she might come close and see how they made the knots. When she had the chance to get some strings, she could make a knot in only one day.

Well! For her, it included more leisure activities. She is so ideal at making knots and gets ease from it clearly. She made knots with all the stuff I gave her: paper rolls, garden hose pieces, shoelaces, strings, everything. Even she could make complicated knots to gather different things.

At one time, she made a type of art installation in her inclusion by hanging the ribbon and strings. It was stunning; the strings were everywhere, and she loved doing it. She utilized everything present in the inclusion: wood, wire mesh, iron rings. It was quite remarkable!

In 1950, a chimpanzee, Congo, at the London zoo made a diversity of drawings and paintings.

Desmond Morris, a naturalist, did a line of experiments with apes to examine whether the apes could make artwork – and even mounted New York exhibition – didn’t he?

Morris is a specialist in primates and zoology and a great author. In 1950, he gave Congo a chimp, some brushes and paints. Congo was best as a painter-ape. He did numerous drawings and paintings in his own way and did not halt until he pondered the painting was completed. Even he altered his style of drawing. When Jackson Pollock saw paintings and drawings of Congo, he considered he was a great artist!

Now, there is a great program known as Apps for Apes. Let us talk a bit about it.

In the zoo, the great apes do not have many activities. Thus, some keepers use iPad tablets to permit them to make or draw music. They like using different electronic means, and it is best because iPads are quite easy for the apes to use. The issue in zoos is that they are in the same inclusion; thus, having access to the iPad is an enhancement for them. However, they can break the devices. Thus, you need to keep the device outside the inclusion’s mesh, and the pes can place their hands through the mesh. It is similar to paintings. They do not get the paints and paper in the inclusion. They do different paintings through the mesh.

Instead of all the love for her keepers and their try to keep her energetic, I could not help feeling repentant for Wattana. Is it good that we carry on to confine different animals in the zoo?

Once Jane Goodall said that she was not certain if she could prefer to in a big, nice inclusion in the wild or the zoo with poachers and all the other things they face in a wild environment. If you place Wattana into the wild in Borneo, she might not be able to survive.

A renowned example was a talking ape, Lucy. Dr Maurice K. Temerlin, her owner, a psychologist, needed to return her to where she belonged; thus, he placed her in an African reserve. However, she did not adapt to the reserve.

Let us know what stuff you learned from Wattana – and what your favorite memory is.

What I learned from Wattana is a way of life as captive orangutans are quite calm and bright. They exist though we are still busy with our work. The great apes, and particularly Wattana, show me how to be silent in life. During my last visit to the zoo in Apenheul, in Holland, Wattana was a wonderful memory. I offered her some red ribbons. However, at first, she did not do anything as she liked a moment to be together. Then, I went to see Dente, her sister, in the same place, and when I return, Wattana had made many knots in the wire mesh.

I did not go into the inclusion. Just the keepers are allowed to go. Thus, we had a glass between us always. Well! I think it is terrible, as she is a captive orangutan – and I am free. For more, don’t forget to visit our website.

The Bittersweet Life Story of a Captive Orangutan: Fun to Read