TACOMA, Wash. – A small ape believed to be the oldest of his species in human care is celebrating his 50th birthday at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
The median life expectancy for a siamang (pronounced sigh-amang) is about 24 years, according to data from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
To recognize Cho Cho’s extraordinary longevity, the zoo is throwing a Primate Party Aug. 12 and 13. But it won’t just celebrate Cho’s Cho’s birthday, the weekend-long event will recognize all of the zoo’s primate species: siamangs, white-cheeked gibbons, black-and-white ruffed lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs.
All will receive special treats and enrichments and special keeper talks will focus on these animals throughout the weekend. Each of those species is endangered in the wild, and the Primate Party will call attention to the plight these animals face in their native habitats. Visitors will leave with a supply of suggested actions they can take right here at home to help the zoo animals’ wild counterparts.
But Cho Cho will undoubtedly be the star of the show. He came to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in 2009 from Oregon Zoo. Dudlee, the larger of the siamang pair, arrived in Tacoma in 2004.
Both are playful and can often be found in various Asian Forest Sanctuary exhibits swinging from ropes or poles, often with one arm. At other times, they rest in specially constructed hammocks, striking what appear to be contemplative poses.
Siamangs have several distinguishing characteristics, from the webbed membrane between their second and third toes to the sound-amplifying throat sac that can expand to the size of their head.
The sound equipment helps them produce their distinctive vocalizations, which can be heard a mile or more away. It’s how they remind other forest inhabitants of territorial boundaries.
At the zoo, it’s not unusual for Cho Cho and Dudlee to sound off if they hear an emergency vehicle’s siren or a band playing in the distance, said Telena Welsh, senior staff biologist in the zoo’s Asian Forest Sanctuary.
Often in the early morning, a chorus of hoots, caws and barks also rings throughout the zoo, and sometimes can be heard at other times of the day. Each siamang has its own part of the song, which is usually produced as a duet with its mate.
“Researchers believe it’s one way they solidify the bond with their mate,” Welsh says, noting that keepers can easily identify the separate voices of Cho Cho and Dudlee.
“Cho Cho is definitely the more laid back of the two,” Welsh said. “We are fortunate to have him living at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. He’s active and in good health, and a joy for visitors to watch.”
Though a super senior in the siamang world, Cho Cho passed his last physical with flying colors, zoo veterinarians said. He is listed in the record books kept by the Species Survival Plan®, a program developed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to aid the survival of threatened and endangered species.
Cho Cho and Dudlee, for example, are the urban animal ambassadors who speak for their endangered counterparts in the wild.
Loss of their tropical forest habitat and the poaching and sale of siamangs to the pet trade are their greatest threats.
Siamangs frequent the forest’s upper canopy in their native Sumatra and Malay peninsula, using their long arms – which are longer than their legs – to navigate from branch to branch. They feed on leaves and fruit, as well as insects or small animals, often hanging from one hand while they eat.
They sometimes sleep sitting up, hugging their knees to their chest as they nestle in the fork of a tree.
Visitors to the zoo learn how they can help Cho Cho’s wild counterparts in the wild by taking a number of actions.
- Support deforestation-free palm oil. Visitors can join Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in asking companies to use only deforestation-free palm oil that is produced without destroying any wildlife habitat. Palm oil is a vegetable oil used widely in household products and food. Learn more at www.pdza.org/pawsforthecause.
- Donate to The Zoo Society’s Dr. Holly Reed Wildlife Conservation Fund. Zoo visitors and others have helped the fund provide more than $1 million in grants to study and conserve wildlife and wild places, benefiting a diverse range of creatures including those of Southeast Asia. The projects the fund supports aid top predators like tigers and clouded leopards and smaller animals like gibbons and siamangs in Southeast Asian forests. Learn more at www.pdza.org/hollyreedfund.
- Say no to the illegal trade of wildlife products. At home and when traveling abroad, avoid purchasing products made from wild animal parts such as ivory, skins, pelts, bones, etc. Many animals in Southeast Asia are threatened by poaching for their body parts or for sale in the pet trade.