It’s Archives Week here at SMB, and this morning I’m featuring my favorite post of Sarah’s. You can read all her posts here.
My kids and I got to attend a special preview of the Phoenix Zoo’s Orang-Hutan: People of the Forest exhibit earlier this month. The zoo staff was awesome, the new exhibit was phenomenal and the orangutans themselves were truly captivating. I never saw the old exhibit, but I keep hearing from others who have visited both how much better the new one is than the orangutan’s former habitat, and how much more intimately you can experience the animals in their new space.
Good stuff. You should go.
I came away with a profound appreciation for both the orangutans and the humans who care for them, and for the relationship between the two. I also came away with this unshakeable feeling of familiarity, like I had seen these sweet, goofy faces and witnessed their antics before.
And then it hit me: the apes reminded me of my (almost) three-year-old and her friends! Here’s how primates and preschoolers are surprisingly similar…
- They’re curious. Have you noticed that toddlers observe everything about the grown-up world around them? They watch, they listen, they mimic. The orangutans did too! Most zoo animals I’ve seen shy away from people, but Duchess, Bess, Michael and Kasih came right up to the glass and looked their visitors right in the eye. It was almost hard to tell who was watching whom.
- Give them the fanciest toys and they’ll still play with a cardboard box. When we first saw the indoor part of the new exhibit I wondered if the orangutans had enough to do or play with. It turned out that a bunch of rags and cotton sheets kept them busy! The baby, Kasih, entertained her onlookers with peek-a-boo and somersaults inside a tangle of fabric.
- You can’t mess with their schedules! The orangutans’ trainer told our group she had come to the zoo late that day and gotten a full-blown stare-down from the apes. They were hungry for breakfast and ready to play. (Ever try to sleep in on a Saturday with toddlers in the house? That’s pretty much how it goes, right?)
- They have a budding sense of (potty) humor. My favorite part of the training demonstration we got to see was when the trainer asked the orangutans to show her various parts of their bodies so that she could perform a routine medical check. Instead of showing her chest, teeth, back and tongue as she was told, Kasih kept showing the trainer her little behind! My daughter thought it was hilarious, and so did the monkey!
- “Mine! Mine! Mine!” The grandmother of the orangutan family got a special glucosamine drink with her snack while we were there. The trainer explained that Duchess was capable of drinking from the container herself, but the others couldn’t be trusted not to snatch the juice away from her. In my house whatever one kid has the other one covets, so this sounded more than a little familiar to me.
- Their behavior is a function of their trust and connection to their caregivers. I was moved by the way the orangutans’ trainer talked to them. They understood every word she said, despite being nonverbal themselves. She was clear and firm and kind and loving. They knew what to expect from her and she anticipated their every mischievous move. The bond between them was abundantly clear and, as strange as it sounds, it reminded me of my relationship with my kids.
I hope you and your little monkeys get the same opportunity we did to get up close and personal with the Phoenix Zoo orangutans! You can find out more about them here.