Orangutan learning English for move from Germany to New Orleans

Don Ames
September 17, 2018 - 9:01 am

The Audubon Zoo is about to welcome a new inhabitant. 

"Jambi is his name," says Joel Hamilton, vice president and general curator at the Audubon Zoo. "He's a new male orangutan, coming to us in October.  

Jambi is making a big move, leaving the Hannover Zoo in Germany to start a new life in New Orleans.

Along with making the 5,000 mile trip, 22-year-old Jambi has been working on his new language, learning to 'speak' English.

"Coming from Germany, he may not speak English that well," says Hamilton. "The keepers at Hannover Zoo have been working with Jambi, giving him his various commands in English so that he is accustomed to hearing the English language, rather than German. So, hopefully, he'll be bilingual when he arrives at Audubon."

Hamilton said Audubon's staff is also learning German-language cues for medical procedures such as "open your mouth" and "show me your fingers" during the transition. 

The orangutan said farewell to his friends in Germany with a goodbye party that included a cake made of rice and grapes.

His new digs are ready to go. Jambi’s New Orleans residence comes complete with three potential girlfriends, towering palms, hammocks and climbing equipment.  

"It has quite an extensive  climbing structure so that people can see them doing what they do in the treetops in the wild. They can actually get up 42 feet in the air. They can see downtown, watch boats in the Mississippi River and just have a grand time out there. It's a very, very nice new exhibit."

Those female orangutans, named Reese, Feliz and Menari, are part of the reason Jambi is moving. The Audubon Zoo hopes the new guy in town might monkey around with one of the ladies, which might lead to even more orangutans. 

Menari and Feliz are both good genetic matches for Jambi, who is from a strain new to the population of orangutans in the U.S., Hamilton said. Reese is on birth control.

Jambi is a Sumatran orangutan, a critically endangered species of the red-haired Asian great apes.

WWL First News also spoke with Joel Hamilton about Valerio, the jaguar that killed nine zoo animals after he escaped from his exhibit in July. 

Hamilton says that exhibit is temporarily closed for repair and remodeling, and Valerio will be returned to the enclosure when that is complete.

Hamilton says once Valerio escaped his enclosure, instinct took over, resulting in the other animals deaths. He says it was completely natural behavior that is in no way reflective of a bad cat.

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