We met Stacie when we were first starting out, and love her passion for animals and her career as a zookeeper. Stacie had asked us for an orangutan shirt a while back, and now here we are! Stacie also helped us out to create this blog, where Evie came up with some questions about orangutans and zookeeping, and Stacie graciously answered them for us! We hope you enjoy our Chat with a Zookeeper!
How long have you worked with primates?
I have been in the zoo field since 2002 starting at the Racine Zoo as an intern. My first experience working with primates was there with the orangutans, gibbons, spider monkeys, lemurs, Patas monkeys, colobus monkeys, and tamarin about 3 years later. But I didn't start out doing that. I left to come to the Milwaukee County Zoo in 2008. I started in the Small Mammals Building. I got trained over in the Primate building within the next year.
What are the names/ages of the orangutans you work with and what are their personalities like?
Female Orangutan's name is Alexandra but we call her Alex for short. She just turned 40 on March 17. She was born in 1983. She came to the Milwaukee County Zoo from Cincinnati in April of 2019. She is a Hybrid Bornean-Sumatran.
Male Orangutan's name is Tommy O. He was born here at the Milwaukee County Zoo to Dick & Sabah. He just tuned 41 this year on March 18. He was born in 1982. He has cheek flanges, a throat sac, and long hair. He is also a Hybrid Bornean-Sumatran.
Do all males have melon shaped faces?
Yes they do. Males have much larger cheek pads, or flanges, that are composed of muscle and large amounts of fat. In females, the flanges are mostly composed of muscle. Males have relatively larger canines and premolars. Males have a more pronounced beard and mustache. The throat sac in males is also considerably larger.
What other characteristics set them apart from each other (either male vs female or how to ID the specific orangutans at the zoo)?
They have their physical differences with Tommy having the cheek pads and being larger in size. He also no longer has any teeth. Alex is smaller in size, no cheek pads, but I like to say she has Justin Bieber hair. It's always well done. She typically has one of her hands with her thumb in her ear, or both, but not all the time. She doesn't like loud noises or large groups of people when she is inside. Outside in the yard she is a bit of a different animal since she has more space and can observe people. She takes her time to shift between exhibits most days. She does like to hide under her sheets, larger pools or tubs at times. Tommy is pretty laid back guy. He usually hangs out at the front of the exhibit or in his black tub with his wood wool. Tommy does go outside in the afternoons usually during the summer since he doesn't like the large crowds as much. He has been more adventurous as he has aged with sitting at the front of the exhibit and venturing outside more than her used to when I first started here. Alex and Tommy do not live together (share the same space)but are able to be next to each other mesh to mesh at times during the day. They can groom through the mesh if they choose to do so.
How much time do you get to spend with the orangutans each day?
When I work the Orangutan beat we typically spend about an hour and a half in the morning with medications, cleaning, feeding, and enrichment for them. We shift them again in the afternoon, which takes us about 30 - 45 minutes to do a quick clean, enrichment, and feed. If we have more time in the day we will do training with them. We do try to do some training with them when we have them in the shift to move from one exhibit to another. We ask for a few behaviors. I do work other areas in the zoo and other routines within the Apes/Primates area as well. I am not always working with the orangutans.
What is the most interesting thing about your work?
The most interesting thing I would say is the relationships you create with certain animals. Some will recognize you if you are visiting in plain clothes or walk by their exhibit but aren't working with them that day. I never thought bats could have personalities but they do for sure after working with the Education Straw Colored Fruit Bats in the Small Mammals Building.
Have you always wanted to work with primates?
I have not always wanted to work with primates. I was actually the Primary Big Cat Keeper when I left the Racine Zoo. I had to get trained on the primate beat there because staff had left to come to the Milwaukee County Zoo. Once I started at the Milwaukee County Zoo there were only certain areas open so I ended up getting the Small Mammal spot and then moved in to a Rover position in 2013. I have worked every area of the zoo except the Aviary and Big Cats at the Milwaukee County Zoo. I like the variety. It keeps me on my toes, and I don't get bored. I do like working over in Apes and Primates mostly now not only due to the animals but my team that I work with as well.
Thank you Stacie!!