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Virginia Zoo orangutans adapt to outdoors

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Posted at 6:53 PM, Jun 15, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-15 18:53:39-04

A pair of orangutans at the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk are experiencing the outdoors for the first time in their lives.

Pepper, 32 and Schnitz, 30, have both grown up living indoors only, so they've never had access to an outdoor habitat with direct sunlight and grass.

That's all changed with a new outdoor habitat with climbing poles and hammocks that zookeepers are trying to encourage the pair to venture outside into.

Executive Director Greg Bockheim says, "They came to us about 14 months ago and they are a little bit anxious about actually walking into this enormous exhibit with all these great things for them to be active on."

On Friday, Pepper walked in the outdoor exhibit for 20 seconds, beating her previous record of 12 seconds.

Volunteer docents document every time one of the orangutans walks outside, trying to figure out what toys and treats encourage the pair to venture out.

The zoo staff says the adjustment is taking a bit longer than they had originally planned, but they are allowing the pair to go at their own pace to keep stress at a minimum.

"My secret dream for Pepper and Schnitz is that I can walk out onto the zoo balcony on the front entrance and they can see me at the top of those 45-foot structures," Bockheim said.

"I can wave a banana and they will know I'm on my way to give them that treat for climbing to the top of those poles."