Rainer received her first extreme home makeover at the age of 2, with renovations costing $350,000. Her new space is 70 feet in length, complete with rope courses, trees and tunnels.
Rainer is a white-handed gibbon, also known as a lar gibbon, living at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.
On Wednesday the zoo opened a new habitat, about ten times the size of its previous one, to the public for these endangered apes, which are best known for their distinct whooping call, said Jonathan Miot, zoo director.
The gibbons now have the space to swing through the air more easily using a hand-over-hand motion called “brachiating” — an instinctive way of moving for the gibbons.
With more exposure to sun and rain, and more trees and vertical space available for climbing, the habitat aims to imitate the rainforest environment where gibbons are found in the wild.
“I think it’s really improved their quality of life,” Miot said.
The zoo is home to three gibbons: adult male Eddie; his partner, Cajun; and their daughter, Rainer.
Eddie and Cajun have been united for over 10 years in the original habitat, which was one of the first exhibits built at the zoo over 30 years ago.
The exhibit was funded by a combination of funds, including a private donation, in-house funding and a grant from the Visit Gainesville chapter of the Tourism Bureau, Miot said.
Construction for the new habitat began in December 2013. The gibbons moved into the enclosure in July to acclimate to the space before the visitors were allowed near the exhibit.
“A bigger space is definitely better for these animals, and it’s better for the public to see them in a larger space,” said Gabrielle Sachs, a graduate from the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo.
Sachs, who is now outreach coordinator at The Art Farm in the City in New York, said that the previous exhibit had been due for an update for many years.
Sachs said that the larger space allows the zookeepers to keep the gibbons mentally stimulated, by allowing them to explore and hunt for their own food for example.
“There’s a multitude of enrichment options that the zookeepers can do now. They can hide food in different places,” Sachs said. “Gibbons need a really large space, so I think this will be great.”
Miot said white-handed gibbons are on the endangered species list because their native territories in the rainforests of Asia are being torn down for the planting of palm trees to be used for palm oil production.
“They’re endangered animals, so their numbers are really dwindling,” Miot said.
At the zoo opening, President of Santa Fe College Jackson Sasser said the new enclosure will ensure that, as an endangered species, gibbons will continue to thrive.
Miot said because of the larger space, the gibbons are able to spread out to different areas of their territory and travel the enclosure, which is important for endangered species.
The ability to better reproduce, raise offspring and allow this offspring to exhibit normal behaviors shows how comfortable this expanded environment is, Miot said.
“These are all of the things we look at as animal behaviorists,” Miot said, “to say ‘Hey, the things that we’re doing are good, and now, they’re even better. Now, we’ve even improved their quality of life.’”