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Perth's Newest Primate: "Don't Palm Us Off!"

Perth Zoo is calling on the community to take action in a campaign to mandate the labelling of palm oil on all food products. The call-to-action came today as a four-week-old critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan, made her debut. The as-yet-unnamed female orangutan was born at 10:40am on 20 October to 39-year-old mother, Puteri. The infant weighed just under 2 kg at birth.



Exotics Curator Leif Cocks gets a first-hand introduction to the baby...

Photos: Perth Zoo/Ross Swanborough

For more pics and info, read on after the jump...






The mother and her newborn were given some private time together before being introduced to the public.

Perth Zoo Exotics Curator Leif Cocks said Puteri and the infant are doing extremely well.

“Puteri adores the baby, cradling and feeding her when she is hungry or appears to need reassurance,” Mr Cocks said.

“The baby is now hanging onto Puteri without assistance and is strong and alert.”

Perth Zoo is a world leader in breeding Sumatran Orangutans and has bred 27 Sumatran Orangutans since 1970. Mother Puteri was the first of the 27 orangutans born at the Zoo.

Perth Zoo Chief Executive Officer Susan Hunt said the birth of the female orangutan is a cause for celebration but the community needs to be aware of the serious threat facing orangutans in the wild.

One of the greatest threats to their survival is habitat destruction resulting from the increase in demand for palm oil.  Palm oil is found in an estimated four out of 10 supermarket products and is often simply labelled as vegetable oil.

The cultivation of oil palms (the tree which produces palm oil) has caused the destruction of thousands of hectares of rainforest habitat in Malaysia and Indonesia and as a result the slaughter of hundreds of orangutans and the poaching of infants for the pet trade.

“The Don’t Palm Us Off campaign is about us being aware of the impact of our consumption and about making a difference to the lives of orangutans, and the preservation of rainforest habitats and other threatened animals,” Ms Hunt said.


“Signatures are being collected across Australia to be used in a submission to Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) which has the power to make the labelling of palm oil mandatory.

“By collecting signatures we are demonstrating that the community wants the choice of whether they purchase products that contain palm oil.

“The campaign aims to raise public awareness of the serious threats to orangutans and other wildlife through our consumption of foodstuffs and other goods.

“It also calls for food producers to introduce controls to ensure that their products come from sustainable sources.”

A desired outcome is that food companies will only source palm oil from sustainable producers and as a consequence the cycle of forest clearing, animal deaths and unsustainable palm oil production will cease.

The aim is that no further forests will be cut down for plantations, animals will be protected and workers will be given proper working conditions and a living wage in a more sustainable industry.

“Presently 6000 orangutans are dying every year. It is important that we are aware of the effect that our consumer choices are having on animals in the wild like the cousins of our newborn orangutan,” Ms Hunt said.

People can show their support for the campaign by registering their details on Perth Zoo’s website at or by filling in a Don’t Palm Us Off postcard when they visit the Zoo. Perth Zoo is a partner with Zoos Victoria in the Don’t Palm Us Off campaign.

Today’s public debut of the infant orangutan also coincides with the three-year anniversary since the release of female orangutan, Temara, into a protected area in the Bukit Tigapuluh National ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Temara is a full sister to the new infant and was the first zoo-born orangutan ever to be released into the wild.

She is part of an international partnership between the Indonesian Government, the Frankfurt Zoological Society, Australian Orangutan Project and Perth Zoo to establish a new population of Sumatran Orangutans in the wild.

Except for Temara, all orangutans in the program are ex-pet trade or orphaned orangutans.

A naming competition for the baby orangutan is being run through The West online which starts tomorrow and closes on 4 December.

Watch a video of Puteri and her infant with Perth Zoo Exotics Curator Leif Cocks and Head Orangutan Keeper Kylie Bullo. (requires Windows Media Player, 2.67mb)

Media contact: Daniel Scarparolo (08) 9474 0383 or 0438 950 643

Background Information

  • The infant will start eating solids, such as tropical fruit, at about five months of age but will continue to feed from her mother for the next five to six years.
  • The father of the infant is 34-year-old Hsing Hsing, who has been at Perth Zoo since 1983. He has fathered three other offspring at the Zoo.
  • The infant celebrates the same birthday as the youngest male at the Zoo, Nyaru, who was born in 2007.
  • The Zoo’s colony currently comprises nine females and four males. 
  • Perth Zoo is part of an Australasian captive breeding program for the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan.
  • Sumatran Orangutans are the slowest reproducing species in the world. Adult females only give birth to an infant every eight or nine years. The gestation period of orangutans is 260 days (or 8.5 months) – almost identical to that of humans. The oestrous cycle of orangutans is 30 days – once again, almost identical to humans. 
  • Females usually have their first offspring between 12 and 16 years of age.
  • One of our closest biological relatives, orangutans have around 97% human genetic make-up and have an intelligence level equivalent to that of a five or six-year-old child.
  • Orangutan means person of the forest in Indonesian.