Bachelor Boys at Orana Park. The world’s largest primates, gorillas

Orana Wildlife Park is New Zealand’s only open range zoo and as soon as I arrived I went to see ‘the boys’ – my main reason for visiting the park yet again. I have been visiting this park for many years, in fact my brother, Roger, helped with fundraising to get the park started. Some years after it started my father had to apologise for his lack of trust in the success of the project and he too loved visiting.

‘The boys’, as they are affectionately called, are three of the world’s largest primates, and Orana park is part of the international zoo based breeding program for Western Lowland gorillas: their role now is to house three of these critically endangered species. These bachelor boys are :Fataki, the silverback and half-brothers Fuzu and Mahali. (Fataki is a half-brother to Mahali too).

orana 2016-02-05 10.44.22They’re housed in the $6M Great Ape Centre – Orana’s most   ambitious project ever was completed in June 2015 just before the gorillas arrived. The habitat enables Orana to hold two species of critically endangered great apes (in separate habitats within the one complex) and the endangered Sumatran orang-utans will hopefully be transferred to Orana during 2016 – when I will return to Christchurch. Add it to your ‘bucket-list’ too.

Raising awareness on the plight of gorillas and orangutan is also a huge page of the park’s role although in the future Orana Wildlife Park hopefully may receive a breeding recommendation.

As you will possibly know threats to gorillas are primarily driven by lifestyle choices such as habitat loss due to coltan mining for electronic devices. Orana Wildlife Park has partnered with Re:Mobile, a New Zealand firm that recycles and re-markets mobile phones, reducing the demand for new handsets and the associated environmental impacts.

So, take any old mobile phone to the park when visiting and put it in the collection box so you too can help.

Orana, a registered charity, is a not-for-profit organisation, and raises 100% of funds for each new development and generating the required funds for the Great Ape Centre was a huge effort by them – well done to you all. See their website to see how you can help as a volunteer, adopt an animal, or donate.

I have more blogs to come about my recent day at Orana Park, but for now for some of my gorilla photos:

Keep up to date with the park and its inhabitants on Facebook … here is the boys shopping list.

Shopping list for vegetarians
Shopping list for vegetarians

NOTE: Many of the endangered animals at the Park do not belong to Orana Wildlife Trust but to the relevant breeding programme which makes decisions about which females are best bred with which males to ensure the most diverse gene pool possible in these captive populations. From time to time animals are moved between various zoos and parks to enhance the genetic diversity of their particular species.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

See heuse IMG_6616re for more of their conservation activities

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Never smile at a crocodile … or an alligator

Over the next few days I will be starting a series of blogs about my three weeks in Florida, Atlanta, and California. The first one will be about Myakka River State Park (Florida) where I saw this fella while on a boat cruise!


Travel the snake-like Kinabatangan River to the Proboscis Lodge

Snake-like, the Kinabatangan is a 560 kilometre river and after a road trip from Sandakan I’m picked up by boat to travel on it to the Proboscis Lodge where I’m staying 3 days and 2 nights.   Sabah’s longest river, this area of it is the 26,000 hectare Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, home to all 8 species of hornbill, as well as orang-utan, proboscis monkey, crocodiles,  pygmy elephant and many colourful tropical birds and many other species of Malaysian Borneo’s remarkable wildlife.

my transport arrives
my transport arrives

I love it when I learn something new and I join other guests on a boat to go to an oxbow lake. I thought it was a funny name for a lake, and it’s not until the next day, browsing in the Lodges library, that I realise exactly what it is we saw. They’re a unique feature of this unusual area, an area that’s influenced by tides as well as the flooding from heavy rains, and there are about 20 ‘oxbow lakes’ in the Lower Kinabatangan.  I learn they’re formed by large meandering bends in the river’s course that eventually get cut off from the main river by erosion on the bends; flooding then changes the river’s direction as the gush of water rushes directly towards the sea.  This eventually leaves a lake behind, cut off from the main river flow and the ‘oxbow’ refers to the shape of the wooden harnesses on oxen – and the only oxbow I’d ever heard of until now.


An invasive aquatic weed blocks one end of the ox-bow lake
An invasive aquatic weed blocks one end of the ox-bow lake

These occasional massive floods slowly change the river, and the lakes too are eventually claimed by vegetation: this process is speeding up by the invasive water hyacinth which has been in the area for about 100 years. Listed as one of the most productive plants on earth – it can double in size in 12 days and is considered the world’s worst aquatic plant. It forms dense mats that competitively exclude native submersed and floating-leaved plants and low oxygen conditions develop beneath them. Recent studies have shown it to be very useful in absorbing heavy metals from polluted water and here in Malaysia, this plant has also been used to feed ducks and pigs.

Travelling up the narrow stream that joins the lake to the river suddenly it opens out to a huge expansive lake: fascinating and peaceful. It’s a great spot for birders and fishers who mainly use nets for their fishing.

fellow-travellers enjoy a fish spa in the lake
fellow-travellers enjoy a fish foot spa in the lake … the fish nibble at the dead skin

I take four boat trips while at Proboscis Lodge and each one provides a different aspect to this scientifically, and historically, important region and I see one of the four tallest trees in the world, the Mengaris. Locals believe these trees, in which bees often form hives, have spirits living in them and that ill fortune will come to those who cut them.  Driving around, areas that have been cleared for oil plantations often have these tall trees reaching skyward, more I suspect for practical reasons than because of myths,  I’m told the tree has silica which soon blunts saws!



It’s in this region, in the ‘land of Hornbills’ that I’m finally seeing many hornbills although the Malaysia Nature Society says there are less around.  Like New Zealand’s native Kereru, the world’s largest wood pigeon with its distinctive swishing sound, I hear the hornbills in flight before I see them as they fly into a roosting tree at the lodge.  It’s for sights, and sounds, like these that I love to travel, and for my concern for habitat both here and in my country (NZ).

I could have, I wish I had, stayed twice as long in this magical place, and more blogs will follow!


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Sleepy otters at Orana Wildlife Park

I went to Orana Wildlife Park  in Christchurch, New Zealand a few days ago and thought I’d give you a wee taste of blogs to come. These little fellas are cute . . .  but can be very vicious!

One sleepy otter
One sleepy otter



two sleepy otters
two sleepy otters

The next blog from Orana will be about feeding the lions . .. I’m just a lions breath away from those teeth and raspy tongue.

Little Blue Penguins and Skiing Grasshopppers

The next time I go to Matu-Somes Island (or any other outdoor place in New Zealand) I will have this book in my bag.

Little Blues, lay your eggs here. Matu-Somes
Tuatara on Matu-Somes

I learn from this book (pg 44) that our ‘little blue penguins‘ are the same as the Australian ‘fairy penguins’, and that the giant weta (pg 281)are gravely threatened.

I also see we have six different grasshoppers in New Zealand. One is called the ‘skiing grasshopper‘ 9p.277) : “Instead of floundering about in soft snow, this grasshopper ‘skis’ from danger. using its legs as ski-poles and its smooth abdomen as a snowboard, ‘skiing siggy’ is an excellent downhill racer.’ How cool is that – what wonderful creature live here!

With 80% of NZ species being found only on these islands, this book helps us know more about our unique wildlife.

COLLINS FIELD GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WILDLIFE Terence Lindsey and Rod Morris (Collins)

If uniqueness were a quality that could somehow be cubed, the result could legitimately be applied to New Zealand’s wildlife. But it has received a most fearful battering over the past century or two, and is now greatly in need of some tender loving care. Every little bit helps’ say this books author’s, Lindsey and Morris.

Evidently there are no island groups anywhere in the world that are comparable to New Zealand in size, latitude, climate and isolation. It seems we have around 10,000 species of insects, 2000 spiders, nearly 300 snails, and perhaps a further couple of thousand of all other groups combined.

This book is a completely updated edition and an extensive guide to well over 400 species of New Zealand fauna, including both native and  introduced species.  Each entry succinctly describes both habits and habitats, distribution, classification, breeding patterns, food and recognition tips to aid amateur identification.  The significantly expanded text also includes the latest research findings and changes in classification and nomenclature that have occurred in the past 10 years, along with many new photographs.

“It seems to me, far too few people — New Zealanders and ‘foreigners’ alike — are aware of just how extraordinary New Zealand wildlife is. For any animal enthusiast with a global perspective, it’s right up there on the billboard with its name in lights along with Hawaii, the Galapagos and Madagascar.” –  Terrence Lindsay (Zoologist and ornithologist)

Rod Morris’s stunning photographic work has also received widespread international acclaim. Previously a producer with Wild South, he is now a freelance natural history photographer.

This penguin washed up lost in NZ: On Peka Peka beach , north of Wellington 2011. He and his kind do not feature in the book of course! I'm using the photo is just because I like it. (see more elsewhere in this blog)
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