Resourceful, Courageous, Methodical
October 24, 1981My Story
Mari, a Sumatran orangutan, came to the Center from a research facility in Georgia where she was part of a language and cognition study.
Mari is a very unusual orangutan in that she has no arms. She lost both her arms while still an infant when her mother, in a very agitated state, damaged her limbs beyond repair. In spite of the accident, Mari is a very capable orangutan. She uses her chin to hoist herself up, uses her feet as we would our hands, and she walks upright (or rolls when she wants to get somewhere quickly). Initially, we were concerned that she might have difficulty maneuvering in a new environment, but she quickly proved us wrong. She moves with such ease and grace that sometimes we forget that she is missing her arms.
When Mari first arrived at the sanctuary in 2001, she spent several months in quarantine (which is standard for new arrivals). Our first two resident male orangutans (Pongo and Christopher) could see Mari everyday from their nighthouse and were fascinated with her! They spent many hours watching Mari and often tried to get a reaction from her. The first week she arrived, young Christopher “dressed himself up” with celery stalks around his neck and on his head, and then paraded around in Mari’s view. He kept checking to see if she was looking at him. We’re not sure whether Mari was impressed, but he definitely had her attention!
Pongo and Christopher are the first male orangutans Mari had ever seen. She was gradually introduced to both boys and has lived peacefully with them in their large domed habitat, but if the boys get rowdy, Mari handles them either with a “kung-fu” kick, or a spit-in-the-face! When Pongo was an adolescent, but still much larger than Mari, he would retreat into a bucket or tub to get away from the intimidating stare Mari gave him if she wasn’t in the mood for play.
Mari has also been introduced to Tango and Pebbles. When both young females arrived out of the entertainment industry, they were very little. Mari adopted them and often shared her nest with Tango… and a few years later, with infant Pebbles. Even though Pebbles has become more independent as she’s grown, she and Mari still have play dates.
Many mornings, Mari climbs the ladder to the top of the 40-foot tall enclosure using her chin and her feet. And she likes to spend part of the day walking upright through the woods in the chute system. Usually, she follows Pongo everywhere he goes, but occasionally she likes to go out in the woods for time alone.
Great apes in general are extremely intelligent animals and need a very stimulated environment when housed in captivity. At the Language Research Center at Georgia State University where Mari spent many years before coming to the sanctuary, Mari worked with lexigrams, mazes, puzzles, and memory tasks. She could even solve computer mazes by manipulating a joystick with her feet, and still enjoys doing that at the sanctuary with a laptop donated specifically for her. Mari is an extremely smart orangutan, and we are always brainstorming to create different activities to keep her challenged and active. Her newest interest is playing on an iPad, generously donated to her from the group, Orangutan Outreach.