Animal Tales

Curious Rayma

Orangutan Rayma

Orangutans have access to an outdoor exhibit.

It’s a good thing first impressions aren’t as important for animals because Rayma, a Bornean orangutan, didn’t make a great one. This May marks the two-year anniversary of Rayma’s arrival at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Zookeeper Kara DeLanty traveled to the Topeka Zoo to meet Rayma and bring her here. The Topeka zookeepers told DeLanty that Rayma can be leery, shy and nervous with new people. Rayma showed that to be true when she filled her mouth with water and spit it right on DeLanty’s clothes. While that wasn’t the best first impression, Rayma and DeLanty have a great relationship now.

Orangutan Rayma

Rayma loves to play with sheets and blankets, often putting them on her head.

DeLanty has learned that Rayma loves water – not to spit at people, but to play with. If a zookeeper is using the hose there are times when Rayma will run her face right into the stream of water. “She loves getting hosed with water or will stomp her feet in puddles,” says DeLanty. Her playful and curious behavior doesn’t end there. Recently, she handed the zookeepers a few nuts and bolts through the mesh. She removed them from a piece of propping in her exhibit. DeLanty describes propping as the furniture in the exhibit such as climbing logs, platforms or swings. Because Rayma is active and uses a lot of the propping she notices quickly when something isn’t right. “If she finds something is loose she will fixate on that until she gets it undone,” says DeLanty. If Rayma does take something apart she takes it upon herself to hand it over to the keepers.

Not too long after that, a piece of flooring in the orangutan exhibit was coming up and had to be fixed. During the repairs, Rayma and her companion Tommy were kept in a different area. When the job was done and they were allowed back in, Tommy seemed to avoid the newly fixed floor. Rayma, on the other hand, laid down on top of it and ran her hands across the fixed area as if she was investigating what happened while she was gone.

Rayma is often seen using a hollow, black rubber hose. She will stick it through the holes of the mesh when zookeepers are on the other side. DeLanty says she may be trying to knock something over or invoke a game of tug-o-war with a keeper. “She can make a game out of anything. It’s something new all the time, every day a new game.” Rayma also likes to use the black hose to go fishing. “It’s a hollow tube and she knows I’ll put food in it. If I have lettuce I’ll put it in and she’ll pull the tube back in, eat the lettuce and stick the hose back through the mesh for more.”


Rayma, 13, brings the playful side out of Tommy, 36.

Part of her active and curious behavior can be linked to her age. Rayma turned 13 years old in April and is still considered young for an orangutan. “From my experience with adult orangutans, like humans, as they age they play less, inspect less and they aren’t as into things,” says DeLanty. Rayma’s male orangutan friend, Tommy, is 36 years old and doesn’t like to play as much, especially with zookeepers. However, Rayma does bring that playful side out of him, and they make a fun pair to watch.

From the May-June 2018 issue of Wild Things