Location (indicated in orange on the map): San Diego Zoo, north of Monkey Trails and Forest Tales
Habitat/Region featured: rain forest of Southeast Asia
Size: 8,000 square feet (743 square meters)
Opening date: May 2003
Nearest dining facilities: Flamingo Café and Safari Kitchen
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A swingin' good time
For decades the orangutans and siamangs at the San Diego Zoo have delighted visitors with their colorful personalities and intriguing vocalizations. Now, the two families of apes, indigenous to the same Asian rain forest ecosystem, share a habitat at the Zoo. Absolutely Apes provides a lush, naturalistic environment where arboreal orangutans and siamangs can climb, swing, and live in the same terrain as they would in the wild.
The enormous, glass-fronted habitat features numerous trees, play structures, ropes, and sway poles. Two simulated termite mounds offer a variety of tasty condiments for the orangs to retrieve: mustard, honey, and barbecue sauce. You can go nose to nose with the curious and playful apes when they choose to sit on a deep layer of mulch right at the viewing window.
On the other side of the glass, the observation area for humans has been designed to feel like an extension of the exhibit. The flooring feels like a rubber mulch walkway, made to look like the mulch inside the exhibit. A group of kid-size vertical sway poles, similar to but smaller than the ones the orangutans and siamangs use, extends into the visitor area from the window. While the apes are swinging on their flexible poles, children can do the same on theirs!
- The cushy but sturdy surface that you stand on to view the apes is made from recycled tires.
- The apes lived in off-exhibit areas for over seven months while their new home was built.
- Karen the orangutan became famous when she needed open-heart surgery in 1994. She pulled through just fine!
- The Zoo's most famous orangutan was Ken Allen (1971 to 2000), known for his many escapes in the early 1980s. He became a San Diego folk hero, with his own fan club and T-shirts, bumper stickers, and songs created in his honor.
- Ape keepers thought the much smaller siamangs might have trouble fitting in with the larger orangutans, but the siamangs have proved both assertive and playful with the orange apes.
- While siamangs don't use tools as a rule, they have learned some tool-using techniques from their exhibit mates.