Primates love playtime thanks to volunteers

16:00, Dec 17 2012
Jean Wilson
PRIME TIME: Birkenhead resident Jean Wilson gets great joy from volunteering at Auckland Zoo working with primates.

Jean Wilson has worked with orangutans at Auckland Zoo so long she admits to thinking like one.

She is among a team of volunteers who provide things for the zoo's primates, including monkeys and apes, to give them mental and physical stimulation.

Jean has worked with orangutans so long that they recognise her and she knows their likes and dislikes.

She even knows one of the big strong male orangutans at the zoo strangely loves velvet, satin and lace.

The highly intelligent orangutans need daily challenges and for more than 15 years the Birkenhead resident has volunteered to help.

Volunteers come in twice a week to provide things for the animals that stimulate their senses and encourage natural or exploratory behaviour.


Favourites for the orangutans include a suitcase firmly buckled up with a treasure trove inside, with things like a toy, peanuts, leaves, a sandshoe and a hat and blanket. Tied-up old towels or clothing are scented with essential oils or cooking essence to get them interested, and inside can be a popcorn or dried fruit treat.

Smaller primates would hand anything knotted up back and suggest you help them, Jean says. But it is no effort for the orangutans which are genetically 97.4 per cent like humans.

Male orangutans are eight to 10 times stronger than a human male so things are tightly tied up but volunteers do not expect to get much back.

They also do not always behave as you would expect with the things they are given, zoo volunteer co-ordinator Fiona Jobling says.

Once they were given a beautiful cardboard wendy house but they did not enter through the door.

They climbed in through the windows and it came apart fairly quickly.

Volunteers are always on the look-out for help sourcing items like old clothing and pine cones.

Pine cones are always needed to fill with things like apple that are then frozen and given to the apes, encouraging them to find a tool like a stick to dig it out.

Visit if you want to find out more about volunteering.

North Shore Times