Adelaide Zoo to honour late orangutan Karta with memorial

Karta died in January after giving birth to a stillborn.

Karta died in January after giving birth to a stillborn. Photo: Zoos SA

Adelaide Zoo’s late orangutan, Karta, will live on through a memorial to be built in South-East Asia, which will help protect wild apes.

A crowdfunding campaign, which the zoo is confident will succeed, has been set up to pay for a guard post in central Sumatra, where wildlife protection officers will live and work.

For primate keeper Pij Olijnyk, it is the perfect way to honour the memory of the 34-year-old ape, who connected with so many people.

“I can almost literally visualise her [Karta] looking over that part of the forest and protecting it for all those other orangutans,” he said.

“We’re looking at a point to provide protection in a particularly vulnerable part of the Bukit Tigapuluh ecosystem, which is prone to loggers, to poachers.”

Karta died in January, just hours after delivering a stillborn infant.

It ended a heartbreaking journey for the ape, who had previously lost six infants after birth.

Like losing any loved one, senior keeper Jodie Ellen has been deeply shaken by the loss and is still coming to terms with what happened.

“She wasn’t just an animal that I’ll miss every day, there’s a significant hole in my life now,” she said.

“For me she was a best friend, she was like a sister, I thought she was my life purpose.”

Ms Ellen has dedicated the past seven years of her life to caring for Karta.

A close bond was built over those years and she had spent every day caring for her in recent months, preparing her for the birth.

“This [her death] was never anything that we predicted,” she said.

“We knew from previous pregnancies that there was always a concern but never in a million years did we think that concern extended to Karta.”


Zoo keepers were expecting problems with Karta’s pregnancy, but did not think she would die. Photo: ABC

The bond between Ms Ellen and Karta is one that many keepers build, which she said was just as strong as any human connection.

“The building just feels empty now without her, she was just a big presence, it’s a very different feeling here without her,” she said.

“I often like to say orangutans are just like us, except they’ve got all of our good traits and none of our bad.”

“I’m so proud that Karta’s name will live on and by having that physical presence there [in Sumatra] that the guards will be able to live and work from, [it] will help protect that area immensely.”

Zoo to raise $20,000 for memorial

The zoo will need to raise $20,000 to build the guard post and a tree will be planted at the zoo in Karta’s name.

“We are able to now have Karta’s legacy go on beyond zoo grounds and literally her memory will go on to save so many more orangutans,” Mr Olijnyk said.

“Now Karta gets to live on forever by helping to protect these wild orangutans.

“I’ve lost people in my life but I’ve never felt a loss like this, I want her to be having that influence out in the wild where it means the most.”


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