Zoo orangutans get swinging lessons from Olympic gymnast after getting too cosy on ground

By Mail Foreign Service

Help: Dutch high bar master Epke Zonderland will help orangutans re-learn how to swing through trees in their new enclosure at Ouwehands Zoo, Holland (below)

As one of the most intelligent primates on Earth, the orang utan is famed for its communication and problem-solving skills.

Sometimes, however, even the most basic behaviour gets a little rusty.

In an evolutionary twist, a zoo is having to employ an Olympic gymnast to teach its orangutans how to swing through the trees.

Ouwehands Zoo in the Netherlands has renovated its orangutan enclosure to allow the apes to leap from tree to tree - but after years on the ground the animals appear to have lost the knack of it.

Epke Zonderland, a master in the high bar at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, is hoping the animals will copy him as he climbs into the trees.

Talent: Mr Zonderland at the European Championships in Germany last year

'It is said that we can learn from apes how to climb, but this time they’ve asked me to get the apes back into the trees,' Mr Zonderland said.

In the wild, orangutans rarely come down to the ground.

The improved enclosure the primates will be able to climb up one tree screened from the public to an outdoor enclosure with seven other trees 30ft high.

These seven trees provide no possibility for the orangutans to come back down to the ground.

A special lift will bring fruit and other food to the apes at the top of the enclosure, while the public can watch them unseen from the ground.

'This is a unique system in Europe in terms of improved surroundings,' the zoo said on its website.

But Mr Zonderland said the apes are probably a little afraid of the new situation.

'I hope on Friday they will be relaxed enough to copy me. I have no experience with apes ... hopefully they start swinging nicely from the trees,' he added.

The athlete said he will use a school playground-type installation to climb to the top of the enclosure, while the orangutans will need to climb the trees.

The experiment is open to public viewing.

source: dailymail