Orangutan Forest

One of the best plants within the habitat has been globe artichoke Cynara cardunculus, a massive plant when growing well. The gorillas had largely left it alone, due to it’s bitter taste (which is why we blanch it before eating) so many more were used here with the same effect – neither of the primate species here touched it the first year at all, apart from passing damage, which is always expected. The large leaves formed great domes on all parts of the island. To pass by the orangutans went around or behind them. The second year the Cynara flowered, throwing up 2m tall stems. Marvellous to see so many and so little damage. Then, checking the island one day while the animal team was working there, little heaps of Cynara leaves were seen in two or three places. When asked why they were there, the animal staff replied that the orangutans were collecting them and using them as bedding. Tearing each leaf off the flower’s stem, they made a heap with four or five leaves. Enough to insulate a little from wet or cold soil perhaps? Wonderful enrichment, great to see and no real harm to the Cynara.

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The Cynara did very well indeed…almost too well in places, only a pathway left between plants. A very different look to the island though and a tough plant too.

The original island, where the orangutans had been for years, had been planted with a similar mix of low-growing shrubs and seeded with the same grass and wildflower mix. Well, that did not go down well with the orangutans. They must have wondered who authorised this? Every plant was pulled up and thrown out. Not a single plant was left after a month or so. The orangutans just would not tolerate any new planting, though seeded in wildflowers are making a difference. Needless to say, that could be a problem if ever new plants are needed on their ‘new’ island. A problem for another day, but thoughts would be for cuttings of perhaps purple willow Salix purpurea, planted during winter and pushed down to within 30mm of soil level to make the cuttings hard to see. The same should work with Leycesteria formosa. Perhaps roots of Cynara or Inula could be de-leafed and planted a little deep. There is nearly always a way.

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The smaller original island was stripped of all new plantings by the orangutan, but the meadow seed mix is growing well.