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Reese the orangutan gets new home in the Big Easy

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lucky Reese. Headed to the Big Easy — land of étouffée, gumbo and jambalaya.

Of course, all she’s likely to be fed is fruit, flowers, leaves and insects.

Such is life for the 9-year-old female Sumatran orangutan, who was recently transferred from the ABQ BioPark Zoo to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. There, she will be part of the that zoo’s breeding program when she comes of age.

The move is part of a Species Survival Plan recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the ABQ BioPark’s accrediting organization.

Reese will join the existing Audubon Zoo’s Sumatran orangutan family, which includes females Feliz, 29, and her offspring, Menari, 9. A male, Jambi, 22, who currently resides at the Hannover Zoo in Germany, will join the Audubon orangutan group later this year.

Reese was born at the ABQ BioPark in October 2008 to parents Sarah and Tonka, who remain at the zoo along with Reese’s sibling, Pixel, and adults Rubi and Memala.

The Audubon Zoo is part of the Audubon Nature Institute, a complex that is made up of the Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Butterfly Garden and the Insectarium.

“The Audubon Nature Institute is an excellent facility where Reese will receive the best of care,” said Lynn Tupa, ABQ BioPark Zoo manager. “Visitors and staff will surely miss Reese here at the ABQ BioPark, but we’re happy that she’ll be part of an important plan to safeguard her species.”

Reese was “a very playful and funny girl,” said Erin Flynn, the BioPark’s curator of mammals. “She enjoyed being around her family but was also getting ready for that next step in her life when orangutans naturally move away from home and have their own families. Reese brought a lot of joy to our staff and visitors, but this is part of what we do to help protect endangered species.”

Courtney Eparvier, curator of primates at the Audubon Zoo, said she expects Reese to fit in well with the zoo’s other female orangutans and be “a wonderful ambassador for orangutans … and help inspire our guests to take action for wildlife.”

In prehistoric times, orangutans lived throughout Asia, roaming as far north as China. Because of logging, deforestation and human encroachment, these primates are now found primarily in the rainforests of the Southeast Asian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, said Flynn.

The Word Wildlife Fund lists Borneo orangutans as endangered, with about 104,000 left in the wild; Sumatran orangutans, with little more than 14,000 in the wild are classified as critically endangered.

Last year, a third species was discovered on Sumatra. The Tapanuli orangutan consists of no more than 800 individuals, making it the most imperiled of all the great apes, the WWF says.

Orangutans are almost exclusively arboreal, though older members often spend time on the ground. Their lifespan in the wild is 30-40 years, but in captivity can live well into their 50s, according to National Geographic. Their standing height is generally between 4 and 5 feet, and their weight can range from 75 pounds to 175 pounds or more, depending on gender, age, health and availability of food sources.

Orangutans have long, fine red hair on their bodies and faces. In addition, males have large cheek pads that are covered in fine white hairs.

Unconfirmed reports indicate that males and females have a fondness for wearing strings of Mardi Gras party beads in February and March.

Have fun, Reese.