Apr 24

It's Willie's 18th Birthday!

by Staff

This past weekend, Busch Gardens Tampa Baycelebrated Earth Day, but those of us on the orangutan team had another reason to celebrate. Willie, one of our male orangutans, turns 18 this year! While his real birthday is today, April 24, we celebrated on Earth Day and had a fun day planned for him and his mom, Joy.

Turning 18 for humans typically is associated with officially entering adulthood, and for orangutans, it’s not that different! Willie has definitely grown a lot since he and Joy moved here from the Como Zoo back in 2008. Back then, he was just 8 years old, and like all young orangutans, had a gangly appearance with none of the impressive features he now dons as an adult male. Male orangutans undergo an amazing transformation as they grow up, and Willie is no exception.

In the photo below, Willie is just 3 years old. When they are born, orangutans have peach-colored skin. Their bellies tend to have a piebald appearance, with some darker patches and some lighter. Their hands, feet, and face are lighter in color, and darken as they age. Baby orangutans are playful and silly, and enjoy exploring the world around them.

Photo Credit: Como Zoo

Like many young mammals, orangutans go through an awkward phase. Juvenile orangutans are exceptionally lanky at this stage, and are perhaps even goofier than they are as infants. One of Willie’s favorite games was to hide himself inside of a barrel and run around with just his feet sticking out.

While female orangutans simply get larger and even out their “lankiness,” male orangutans’ appearances change completely. Their hair gets longer and shaggier, and will often form dreadlocks. This long red hair helps them to camouflage as they move around in the canopy, or top layer, of the rainforest.

They will also develop cheek pads and a throat sac, both of which are used to communicate. While orangutans are fairly non-vocal, one vocalization they are known for is the “long call.” Male orangutans use their throat sacs to make this call through the forest to establish territory. Orangutans are solitary, meaning that they live alone in the wild. If a male hears another male’s long call, he knows he is entering claimed territory, and he can choose to leave or challenge the dominant male. The cheek pads act as an amplifier for the long call, similar to making your voice louder by cupping your hands around your mouth.

It has been a privilege to watch Willie transform from a silly adolescent into such a handsome adult male. Now tipping the scales at around 250lbs, Willie is nearly full-grown. Despite his impressive appearance, Willie still enjoys walking around with barrels and cardboard boxes on his head.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay celebrated animal awareness days and birthdays all year long! The best way to join them all is with a Fun Card, where you can play for a day and come back all year. This is the LAST WEEK to take advantage of the BOGO Fun Card deal which gets you a FREE Adventure Island Fun Card with a purchase of a 2017 Busch Gardens Fun Card. Click here for more info.