News / Asia

Walls Sometimes Optional with New Primate Exhibits

At the Singapore Zoo during its daily 'Jungle Breakfast event (Courtesy/John Beckman)
At the Singapore Zoo during its daily 'Jungle Breakfast event (Courtesy/John Beckman)
Computer games aren’t just for humans anymore. Orangutans, especially young ones, like playing them. And giving these gentle apes “computer time” is just one way that zoos are bringing down the walls - sometimes literally - between humans and their simian relatives. 
 
Open-air, no walls exhibit

Orangutans and humans are remarkably similar - and not just because they share 97 percent of our DNA. They often make tools. They’re one of very few species that can recognize themselves in a mirror. And they can learn new languages. Some, living near humans in Southeast Asia, have even begun to use canoes.

For zoos, these similarities raise a profound question: What kind of orangutan exhibit makes sense? Perhaps none at all. Every morning at the Singapore Zoo, visitors and orangutans simply join each other for breakfast in an open-air pavilion.
 
"It feels really amazing. You know, you’re really close to them. And they tell you not to reach out for the baby orangutans, because the mothers will get very possessive," said Beckman. "But everyone’s kind of calm. And I did feel safe." 
 
At the Singapore Zoo during its daily 'Jungle Breakfast event (John Beckman/Chicago visitor)At the Singapore Zoo during its daily 'Jungle Breakfast event (John Beckman/Chicago visitor)
x
At the Singapore Zoo during its daily 'Jungle Breakfast event (John Beckman/Chicago visitor)
At the Singapore Zoo during its daily 'Jungle Breakfast event (John Beckman/Chicago visitor)
Chicago resident John Beckman took photos of his unusual breakfast, to prove to friends back home that he truly stood just centimeters away from the apes. Cross-species breakfasts are a 25-year tradition at the zoo. But Beckman says it would be hard to imagine something like that here in the United States.
 
"I don’t know what it would take. You know lawyers tend to start [conducting] risk analyses, when something like this happens," Beckman said. "But I would love it, because I think it really gives you a greater appreciation of the animals."
 
Six years ago, the Singapore Zoo took down even more walls. Now orangutans use a combination of real and artificial trees to move around the zoo. Often, they swing right over visitors’ heads.  
 
U.S. zoo following openness concept

Halfway around the world in the American Midwest, the Indianapolis Zoo is also creating canopy-height trails. When the zoo’s International Orangutan Center opens in 2014, it will feature different cross-species activities, like computer games.

"They’ll have a chance to do memory games, where both the person and the ape have to remember where things are and work together to solve that task," said Robert Shumaker, vice president of life sciences at the zoo. "Or they may have the opportunity to do things just for fun, like something that will simulate finger painting."
 
Visitors and apes will also take turns using tools to release a reward.
 
"The apes will get tokens that they can use basically like money. We actually are creating something like a vending machine. There might be special foods in there. Maybe if it’s getting into the evening, they might want to have a special blanket to cover up with," Shumaker said. "One of the really interesting questions is whether or not they might try to hide their tokens from the other apes or possibly even from us." 
 
Amy Parish has spent 20 years studying apes in captivity. The University of Southern California primatologist says many apes seem quite happy in zoos with plenty of greenery and stimulating challenges. And, she says, zoos do something equally important for the humans who come to see them. 
 
"They engage the public so that they fall in love with these species and start caring about what’s going to happen to them," she said. "I think the next step for zoos is to move not only in the direction of interactive exhibits, but exhibits where the apes get to provoke certain behaviors in us. I’d love to be one of their first volunteers."
 
And, experts say, the more engaging zoos are, the more likely they can help promote conservation in the wild.

You May Like

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Russia’s Prosecutor General to Review Legality of Baltics Independence

Move, announced Tuesday, has alarmed Baltic States and strained even further their increasingly tense ties with Moscow More

US Urged to Keep Up Pressure on Cuba Rights

Communist government continues to hold dozens of political prisoners, tightly restricts freedom of expression, uses threats, intimidation to discourage critics, according to activist groups More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs