Olympian to teach zoo's apes the art of swinging

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IN an evolutionary twist, a zoo is calling on the services of an Olympic gymnast to teach orang-utans how to swing through trees.

The zoo, Ouwehands Dierenpark Rhenen, in the Netherlands, had renovated its orang-utan enclosure to allow the long-limbed, hairy, auburn-coloured primates to swing from tree to tree in an outdoor setting above the viewing public. However, the animals appear to have lost the knack.

Olympian Epke Zonderland hopes to re-teach them today. He said: "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."

"In the wild, orang-utans rarely come down to the ground, the zoo said, and in 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 ten metres high.

"These seven trees provide no possibility for the orang-utans 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.

But Mr Zonderland, who competed in the high-bar event at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, said the apes are probably a little afraid of the new situation.

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

Mr Zonderland said he will use a school playground-type installation to climb to the top of the enclosure, while the orang-utans will need to climb the trees.

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