Animal Tales

Bringing Animals Together

Orangutan Alex

Alex is 36 years old. She came to Milwaukee shortly after the last female orangutan, Rayma, went to Phoenix.

Similar to humans, animals can take a while to warm up to each other. They may be shy and take their time to interact with a male or female. Alex is a perfect example. She is an orangutan from the Cincinnati Zoo and came to Milwaukee in April to be a companion for Tommy, the Zoo’s male orangutan.

With any animal introduction, you can’t just put two animals together. First, zookeepers gave Alex time to get to know her new home. “Initially, she seemed quite nervous about the large groups of visitors. To help her feel less stressed, we decided to cover the windows of her indoor habitat to give her privacy to explore her space,” explains orangutan zookeeper Kara DeLanty. It took about three weeks for Alex to see all three indoor areas and the outdoor yard.

Orangutan Alex

While Alex was checking out her new home, she was able to see Tommy through windows. How the two react to seeing each other helps zookeepers decide when they should be put together. Keepers didn’t see any signs of aggression or agitation when they saw each other. Then, several weeks later, DeLanty saw a positive interaction at the outdoor window. “They would both push their faces up against the window at the same time or they would just sit and calmly look at one another. Once we saw some of these positive signs, we decided that it was time to put them together.”

Introductions went well, but Alex didn’t want Tommy to get too close. According to DeLanty, Alex wants about 3 feet separating them. “Tommy has not been pushing the space boundaries that Alex seems to have set,” says DeLanty. “My biggest hope right now is that they make some sort of positive physical contact soon. This could be in the form of play, food sharing, or grooming. Anything that indicates that they are building up a higher level of trust.”

Alex likes to relax and lay low when she is inside but is very active outside. You may spot her climbing across the yard from the ceiling of the exhibit. “One thing that I think guests will find funny is her tendency to walk backwards sometimes to get from point A to point B.”

This article appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Wild Things