Primates are Greensborough zookeeper's mates

Will Jackson, Diamond Valley Leader - 02Jul08

Greensborough zookeeper Fleur Butcher is committed to improving the plight of orang-utans. Watching the orang-utans at Melbourne Zoo, it's easy to see how Fleur Butcher fell in love with the primates.

Their similarity to human beings is striking as they play, argue and care for each other and the little ones are just so cute.

The Greensborough resident has been working with orang-utans for 15 years, with the past seven at Melbourne Zoo on the team that looks after five orang-utans in the Orang-utan Sanctuary Visitor Centre.

The new enclosure has huge climbing frames and glass walls so the primates can get up close and personal with the public.

"It's been fantastic moving them in here," she said.

"It's so different to the old-style pit exhibits and it's great being able to have visitors interact with the animals."

Ms Butcher said one of her most time-consuming jobs was finding new activities to keep the orang-utans physically and mentally active.

"They're classed as the most intelligent primates apart from humans, so working with them is always a daily challenge, trying to keep them out of mischief, trying to keep them thinking and active."

Her other role was to educate people about the risks orang-utans faced in the wild, she said.

"The Sumatran orang-utan is a critically endangered species, so it's very likely we'll see them become extinct in the wild in my lifetime," she said.

Last week Ms Butcher flew to Indonesia for a month-long stint at the Nyaru Menteng rehabilitation centre, for orphaned orang-utan babies.

Expanding oil palm plantations destroy orang-utans' habitat and several rehabilitation centres have been set up to care for orphans before they are returned to the wild.

At Nyaru Menteng there are 700 waiting for a release site.

"The goal is to release the babies back into the wild, but it's hard to find suitable areas of protected forest still left over there," Ms Butcher said.

A welder from Melbourne Zoo and an electrician sponsored by Borneo Orang-utan Survival Australia are travelling with Ms Butcher.

We're going to work with the locals to build up their welding techniques and the electrician's going to assess the project and find out what needs fixing because the electrics over there are pretty dodgy," she said.

"And then we'll come back with recommendations on how we can continue to contribute to the project."

Picture: Lawrence Pindern