Belgian Zoo Allows Orangutans, Otters To Play With Each Other During Coronavirus Lockdown

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A zoo in Belgium is allowing orangutans and otters to play with each other while the facility is shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic, CNN reports. Photos of the two different species enjoying each others’ company are melting hearts across the internet.

Pairi Daiza zoo in Domaine du Cambron hasn’t had a human visitor in quite some time, as it — like so many zoos, museums, and other places that normally host large crowds — is closed in an attempt to stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the zoo animals still require feeding, care, and things to do. A dedicated team of handlers is doing its best to keep the animals healthy and happy.

For orangutans, however, that’s proving to be something of a challenge. The primates, who share 97 percent of their DNA with humans, need stimulation and attention, just like humans do. Specifically, zoo spokesman Mathieu Goedefroy said, they “must be entertained, occupied, challenged and kept busy mentally, emotionally and physically at all times.”

Goedefroy is referring to the zoo’s resident orangutan family — 24-year-old father Ujian, 15-year-old mother Sari, and their 4-year-old son, Berani. The zoo also houses two other orangutans in another habitat — Gempa, a male, and Sinta, a female.

“Happy birthday, Berani! Our famous little Sumatran orangutan celebrates his 4th birthday today!” the translated tweet reads.

In order to keep the animals busy, zookeepers made the decision to mix things up a little, allowing a family of Asian otters — who normally live in another enclosure — to take up residence in the river that runs through the orangutans’ habitat.

Now, the two groups of animals have developed a cross-species friendship.

Goedefroy said that the arrangement has worked out swimmingly for both sets of animals. The otters, in particular, have come to enjoy hanging out with their “big, furry friends,” as he described them.

“It makes life more fun and interesting for both animal species, which makes it a very successful experiment,” he explained.

Besides allowing the primates to have new animal friends take up residence in their habitat, keepers are also busy playing with the orangutans, giving them riddles and puzzles to keep their minds and bodies occupied.

Pairi Daiza isn’t the only zoo that’s allowing previously-separated animals to mix with each other as their homes are closed to visitors during the coronavirus pandemic. At Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, as USA Today reports, keepers have been letting penguins take “field trips” around the facility. It seems the birds have been quite taken with the fish and marine mammals they share space with.