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Archive for Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Salina zoo says goodbye to popular orangutan

May 31, 2011

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— Like many other times when they visited Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure, Stephanie Loudon's family kicked off their visit Saturday at the orangutan exhibit.

This time, however, the mood was somber as the family said goodbye to Robbie B., the zoo's 18-year-old Sumatran orangutan.

Robbie will leave the zoo Wednesday for St. Louis after 11 years at the zoo in an attempt to breed with young females in accordance with the Orangutan Species Survival Plan.

"When we found out he was moving, we decided we needed to come say goodbye," Loudon said at Robbie Day. "We have been planning this for a couple of weeks."

As part of a way to allow people to say their goodbyes to Robbie, zoo staff invited the public to Robbie Day. People were able to make cards and color pictures for the primate,

"Everyone comes to see Robbie," said Christine Ashcraft, lead primate keeper at the zoo, who was wearing a shirt with a picture of Robbie on it. "He is the ambassador to this zoo. He's a superstar."

Since the Loudons moved to Ellsworth and visited the zoo for the first time six years ago, Robbie has been a favorite of the family's four children, especially 6-year-old Will.

"Some of his first words were 'Robbie' and 'apple,'" Loudon said. "Now, my other kids like him. Every time we come to the zoo, we have to come see Robbie first and see what he is up to."

Ashcraft said the love of Robbie is common because of his personality. She said Robbie also expressed that love back to the people.

"He really loves to interact with the public, which comes from him being hand-reered as a baby," Ashcraft said. "He really likes to see people perform, likes people to show him books and would even enjoy just watching people."

As Robbie heads to St. Louis, the zoo's 31-year-old female, Rusa, will continue to be on display and a new orangutan, Clyde, 34, will go on display in mid June.

"This will be a better situation for Robbie and Clyde," said keeper Lynne Kearney. "Clyde has had to be moved around at the San Diego Zoo because his maturing son is starting to push him around.

Clyde is in the Rolling Hill's quarantine waiting to be introduced to Rusa before going in front of the public.

Loudon said the family is looking forward to seeing Clyde at Rolling Hills and maybe visiting Robbie in St. Louis.

"It is sad to see him go, but we hope to come see Clyde," Loudon said. "I never thought I would cry for an orangutan, but I'm a little emotional."

While Loudon and her kids are sad to see Robbie go, the move has been especially hard for zoo workers like Ashcraft and Kearney.

"I've known him since he was a little boy," Ashcraft said. "He is amazing and gorgeous, but he is going to a great zoo and they can't wait to get him. It has been hard."

Kearney said the move will be good for Robbie and the Sumatran orangutan, but it doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye.

"It is incredibly heartbreaking for us, but for him it will be the best," Kearney said. "St. Louis will be good for him and is lucky to have him."

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