Keepers are unravelling the dental secrets of young orangutans at Chester Zoo to learn more about their development. It is hoped that the study can assist young orang-utans orphaned in rescue centres throughout Borneo and Sumatra.
Currently ages can only be very roughly estimated since they are usually seized from different places without the ability to gain information. They are hoping that by looking at the way their teeth emerge they will be able to determine the age of the orphans and also orang-utans in the wild.
Steve Unwin, A Chester Zoo vet heads the Orangutan veterinary advisory group. This group of mostly Malaysian and Indonesian vets from rehabilitation centres in that area.
He said, ‘An orangutan is reliant on its mum for the first eight years of its life. But it’s very, very difficult indeed to tell the ages of young orangutans. So, if a rehabilitated youngster is thought to be eight years old but is actually only five, this can potentially affect its chances of survival when it’s reintroduced into the forest.’ This shows just how important this research is.
He used the opportunity to highlight that ‘This is an excellent example of how zoos, and captive populations of species, can aid conservation efforts in the wild.’ Chester Zoo is a great position to do this with 20 orangutans on site at Chester. These orangutans represent the 2 different species making the research opportunity even better.
The orangutan keepers at Chester are busy recording when the babies teeth first appear and when they fall out.
The orangutans appear to be enjoying their trips to the dentist unlike humans. Primate keeper, Kate Brice reveled the zoo’s secret, ‘That’s because to encourage them to open nice and wide we often use honey which we smear on a surface for them to lick off. As soon as they come over we then have to take a photograph of the insides of their mouths as quick as we can, as before you know it the honey is gone!’
The two orangutans being studied at the moment are one month olds Tripa and Tuti. Keepers first saw their teeth at 5 months old.
Chester Zoo is going another step further to help orangutans with the go orange for orangutans program. Individuals, families and businesses will be able to help raise funds for the orangutans. They are hoping they can raise £5,000 to purchase 15 camera traps.