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Los Angeles Zoo Kicks Off Construction of New $5 Million Orangutan Habitat

This architect's model shows the entrance to the future Red Ape Rain Forest.
Photo by Tad Motoyama.
© Los Angeles Zoo
May 24, 1999--The Los Angeles Zoo celebrated today the start of construction on its multi-million dollar Red Ape Rain Forest exhibit.

Zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo and city dignitaries including Council President John Ferraro took part in the ceremony, beginning the one-year journey toward creation of a state-of-the-art home for the Zoo's orangutans. After formal speeches, officials and a group of Multnomah Environmental Magnet School students took part in the building of an Indonesian "mock rain forest" complete with native plants and fruit.

The ceremony setting was within the half-acre construction site where large construction trucks and mounds of dirt served as backdrop. Because the Zoo's orangutans in their current exhibit are away from the site of their future home, two life-size, two-dimensional painted wooden orangutans took their places at the ceremony.

"We are very pleased to publicly announce the groundbreaking for the future home of the Los Angeles Zoo's orangutans," Mollinedo said. "These very deserving apes have waited a long time for this. We are grateful for the private/public partnership that is making this $5 million Red Ape Rain Forest a reality."

The Red Ape Rain Forest is phase two of the $15 million Great Ape Forest, which is composed of new exhibits for the Zoo's chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas. The first phase, Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountains, opened in August 1998, while the gorilla exhibit is scheduled for the year 2001. The Great Ape Forest is being funded with money from private donations to the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association (GLAZA) and from Proposition A, an initiative passed in 1992 by Los Angeles voters.

"The Red Ape Rain Forest will be another jewel in our treasure chest of exhibits at the Los Angeles Zoo," said Mayor Richard J. Riordan. "As a world-class facility, the Zoo provides an array of learning opportunities for Angelenos of all ages. I look forward to joining the orangutans for a housewarming party in the year 2000."

The Red Ape Rain Forest, scheduled to open in July 2000, has a unique design. Orangutans Eloise, 30, Bruno, 21, Rosie, 18, and Kalim, 17, will only be seen from the heart of the circular exhibit because the entire site will be surrounded by bamboo and rubber trees. Visitors will walk through a front entry pagoda and onto 1,000 square feet of viewing decks to watch the orangutans, housed in three interlinked stainless-steel mesh, tent-like enclosures. Inside the enclosures will be a recirculating stream and 20-foot-tall artificial trees with branches and vines, giving the orangutans the climbing and swinging structures they need as arboreal primates. Their current 500-square-foot exhibit is mainly concrete mounds with bare wooden platforms.

"I can't wait for you all to see the orangutans," said Keeper Rose-Marie Weisz, who cares for the orangutans. "Because you haven't really seen them yet. The exhibit they're in now diminishes them, distorts them. I see this exhibit as vision correction for us humans."

The design of the habitat will stimulate orangutans' natural wild foraging behavior and allow the orangutans, who are solitary animals, to spend time alone if they choose. By enhancing orangutans' natural arboreal lifestyle, the Red Ape Rain Forest will result in more active, and thus healthier orangutans. The exhibit will give the orangutans 6,000 square feet of open space. Their 1,920 square feet of indoor quarters will consist of six individual bedrooms and a day room. Their keepers will have 1,280 square feet for an examination room, kitchen, bathroom, shower, and lounge area.

There will be a viewing shed area in the exhibit with large windows, giving the orangutans the option of getting face-to-face with people. On the viewing decks, visitors can get within 12 feet of the apes. Plans also call for an outdoor storytelling area. Visitors will leave the habitat through an exit pagoda. They can follow the path to the bongo antelope exhibit and up toward the Chimpanzees of Mahale Mountain exhibit. The exhibit is designed by CLR Design Inc., based in Philadelphia. The contractor is S.J. Amoroso, based in Foster City, CA.

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