The Bittersweet Life Story of a Captive Orangutan
Rejected by her mother, Wattana had to learn from the humans around her.
There are more than 4,000 great apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and bonobos) in zoos worldwide. But, unlike the wild primates that naturalists like Jane Goodall or David Attenborough have turned into global media superstars, these captive apes have largely been forgotten, as though their lives behind bars make them less worthy of our attention.
But for Chris Herzfeld, author of Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris, captive great apes lead lives every bit as interesting as their wild cousins—in some ways, more so. By interacting with their human keepers, they learn skills that wild apes can never master—like the elaborate and beautiful knots that Wattana, a female orangutan, ties.
Speaking from her home in Naples, Florida, the Belgian author recounts how difficult it is for captive apes to