Saturday, January 8, 2011
Henry, the zoo's male Sumatran orangutan, will celebrate his 20th birthday this Saturday and Sunday at the El Paso Zoo. (Mark Lambie/El Paso Times)
Henry the Sumatran orangutan turned 20 years old on New Year's Day, and the El Paso Zoo will have a birthday party for the animal this weekend.
The celebration will be a fun event for zoo visitors, but they'll also learn about this endangered orangutan species and how to get more involved to save them, said Rick LoBello, education curator at the zoo.
Sumatran orangutans are native to the island of Sumatra in the nation of Indonesia. They are critically endangered, LoBello said. In 2004, an estimated 7,300 Sumatran orangutans existed in the wild.
"It's probably lower than that now," he said.
This is one of two species of orangutans. The other is the Borneo species, and those are rare too, LoBello said.
The birthday celebration will be from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the orangutan exhibit in the Asia section of the zoo. This exhibit is across from the elephants.
Regular zoo admission prices apply to participate.
Zoo staff and volunteers will hand out palm oil shopping guides to help consumers make more informed decisions on how to help protect orangutans.
Palm oil plantations are the biggest threat to the orangutans' natural habitat, LoBello said.
"When palm oil plantations expand, they destroy orangutan habitat," LoBello said. "Until the palm oil industry stops destroying orangutan habitat, orangutans will be threatened with extinction. By informing people about the products that contain palm oil, they can choose to avoid those
products and help orangutans and other species that live in their habitat. This is much the same as dolphin-safe tuna."
The goal is to educate people about how the palm oil industry is a major threat to these animals and to create positive changes in the world, LoBello said.
"We're hoping that one day the palm oil industry will be able to say its oil is from sustainable plantations where they've agreed not to destroy any more habitat," he said.
Henry and his mate, Ibu, a female who is about eight months younger than Henry, will also be given special food as a treat during the celebration. They'll be given fruit and other treats inside piñatas, LoBello said. They'll have to break open the pinatas, and the public can watch, he said.
Henry was born on Jan. 1, 1991, at the Albuquerque Zoo. He has been at the El Paso Zoo since November 1997.
"He serves as an ambassador for the conservation of his species," LoBello said.
No one knows for sure what an orangutan's average life span is in the wild, LoBello said, but it's estimated to be 35 to 40 years.
"They're just like people," LoBello said. "In zoos, they can get a lot older, because they get all the medical care we give them. They can be 40, 50 or even 60 years old. There was one at the Phoenix zoo that recently turned 50, and that was one of the oldest in the United States."
Henry is 4 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 213 pounds.
The El Paso Zoo has two Sumatran orangutans because it participates in the Species Survival Plan program for them.
"We cooperate with other zoos in providing a population that could possibly be an insurance policy in case something happened to them in the wild," LoBello said.
One of the main roles a zoo plays is to help people connect with animals, LoBello said. Having a birthday party for a well-known animal at the zoo is just another way of doing that, he said.
El Paso native Millie Garcia plans to take her 8-year-old son, Sebastian, and 9-year-old daughter, Carolina, to Henry's birthday celebration. Garcia said it will be a chance to have fun and learn about endangered species.
"We love the zoo," she said. "They're always improving the zoo one way or another, and we like to visit often and keep up with the changes." Garcia said the zoo continues to grow and expand.
"It's definitely not the same as when I was growing up," she said. "It's amazing to see the transformation."
The El Paso Zoo, 4001 E. Paisano, will have a 20th birthday celebration for Henry the Sumatran orangutan today and Sunday.
The event will be from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. both days at the orangutan exhibit in the Asia section of the zoo.
Regular admission prices apply.
The zoo is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the winter, but the ticket booth closes at 4 p.m.
Admission prices are $10 for ages 13 to 59; $7.50 for ages 60 and older and for active-duty military and spouses with ID; $6 for ages 3 to 12; and free for ages 2 and younger and zoological society members.
Information: 521-1850 or http://www.elpasozoo.org/.
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