01 22/01/2016

Chester Zoo unveils new home for endangered primates

Chester Zoo has unveiled a new home for some of the world’s most endangered primates.

Islands at Chester Zoo
Chester Zoo has unveiled its state-of-the-art home for some of the world’s most endangered primates.

The (3,607m sq) exhibit, part of Islands, the UK’s biggest ever zoological development, has been designed by the zoo’s primate keepers, conservationists and specialist architects from Germany. It is the new playground for the zoo’s group of seven Sumatran orangutans and three silvery gibbons – including a 12-day-old newborn.

Conservation experts estimate that fewer than 6,500 Sumatran orangutans and less than 4,500 silvery gibbons are left in the wild. The zoo hopes the new area will put a major spotlight on issues such as habitat destruction, a threat which is pushing both species to the very edge of extinction.

Tim Rowlands, curator of mammals at the zoo, said:

Without vital conservation efforts, Sumatran orangutans and silvery gibbons could both become extinct in the near future. We just hope that this fantastic new environment at the zoo will encourage visitors to learn more about these stunning species and the long-term conservation efforts we’re involved with to try and protect them for the future.

The zoo is working with a number of conservation partners to restore and protect habitats across Sumatra and Borneo and in the UK where we’re encouraging businesses to source palm oil products from sustainable retailers in their supply chain. Habitat destruction, to make way for palm oil plantations is something that’s really impacting on animals like orangutans and gibbons but the work we’re doing is helping to shape a brighter future for them, and a range of threatened species in the region of South East Asia.

We want to showcase just how much careful work goes into the conservation of such a charismatic species and, by doing so, hope we’ll inspire a new generation of people to really care about wildlife, especially those species that are hanging on to survival by a thread.

The new exhibit includes state-of-the-art breeding facilities and a host of climbing poles  reaching heights of 15 metres using ropes, rockwork, trees, webbing and sway poles – carbon fibre poles that ‘sway’ similarly to trees when orangutans move from one to another above the forest canopy when foraging for food.

The new occupants, Sumatran orangutans, Tripa, Tuti, Indah, Emma, Subis, Puluh and Siska and the family of silvery gibbons, are joined in Chester Zoo’s Islands by other newcomers including green crested lizards, mountain horned dragons and endangered spiny hill turtles, species also hailing from South East Asia.

Sumatran orangutan facts

  • Scientific name: Pongo abelii
  • IUCN Conservation status: Critically endangered
  • Origin: Endemic to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia
  • Threats to wild habitat: Legal and illegal logging of forests, conversion of forests to agricultural land and oil palm plantations, fragmentation of forest by roads, illegal hunting and capture for the international pet trade and they are also killed as pests
  • Estimated number of individuals in the wild: Less than 6,500 individuals are thought to remain in the wild

Silvery gibbon facts

  • Scientific name: Hylobates moloch
  • IUCN Conservation status: Endangered
  • Origin: Endemic to the Island of Java, Indonesia
  • Threats to wild habitat: The historical deforestation that affected Java still maintains an overriding presence on the landscape, effectively restricting the arboreal silvery gibbon to continuous tracks of forest around mountain and volcano tops.
  • Estimated number of individuals in the wild: Less than 4,500 individuals now remain in the wild, with an observed continued decline

Facts about the new exhibit which opens on 23/01/2016

  • The exhibit is over 3,607sq metres in size – making it one of the biggest Sumatran orangutan enclosures in in the world.
  • The process of building the new enclosure started in 2011
  • Chester Zoo’s curatorial team, primate keepers and conservation and education teams worked on various parts of the exhibit design with specialist architects from Germany
  • The area recreates the habitats found in South East Asia
  • Chester Zoo has a highly successful breeding record with Sumatran orangutans and is part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme for the critically endangered animals. The zoo works closely with other zoos on conservation breeding projects to try and ensure the ongoing survival of the species.