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  • 20 Sep 2014

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Firefighters' gift helps aging zoo apes

Photo Credit: PHOTO BY MICHAEL DURHAM, COURTESY OF THE OREGON ZOO - Phyllis, a 44-year-old white-cheeked gibbon, rests in a fire-hose hammock at the Oregon Zoo's Red Ape Reserve. Primates at the Oregon Zoo are now relaxing in hammocks made from about 2,000 feet of decommissioned fire hose donated by the Clackamas Fire District.

Primate keepers Colleen Reed and Scott Jackson wove the hose into hammocks, which are now being used by 54-year-old orangutan Inji and gibbons Phyllis and Duffy. They are relatively indestructible, mimic the arboreal nests used by orangutans, and provide a resting area for the gibbons as they swing among the treetops.

After Reed and Jackson install the hammocks in Red Ape Reserve, the primates began finishing the job by lining them with wood wool, hay, old T-shirts and other materials hidden around the habitat by keepers.

“We don’t want to build the nests for them,” Reed says. “We want them to follow their natural instincts to find materials.”

The hammocks are especially important for the geriatric Inji, who is the oldest Oregon Zoo resident and one of the oldest orangutans anywhere. According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the median life expectancy for female Sumatran orangutans is 32, though sometimes they can live to 60.

“Inji spends a significant part of each day finding materials for her nest, which helps keep her active and stimulated,” Jackson says. “The hammock is soft on her old bones and it’s clear that she prefers the fire hose to all other resting places.”

Others zoos have used decommissioned fire hoses for similar purposes, too.

Zoo officials say habitat loss, palm oil plantations and an illegal pet trade are pushing orangutans toward extinction in Sumatra and Borneo. According to Orangutan Outreach, it could be fewer than 10 years before they have completely vanished from the wild. In response, the Oregon Zoo launched its Use Your Reach project, aimed at encouraging companies to pursue deforestation-free palm oil.

For information on the Use Your Reach program, visit www.oregonzoo.org/conserve/global-conservation/use-your-reach.

Video of the fire hose hammocks can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ihwj8pa_nlw&feature=youtu.be.

The zoo is a service of Metro, the elected regional government. opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.

General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.