My Friends

Arrow Up

Arrow Up
Arrow Down
,
  • Mon
    22
  • Tue
    23
  • Wed
    24
  • Thu
    25
  • Fri
    26
  • Sat
    27
  • Sun
    28
David Mitchell Sep 22, 2014 The author of Cloud Atlas and Book Catapult creator Seth Marko will discuss Mitchell's new novel, The Bone Clocks, about a fifteen-year-old psychic girl trying to solve multiple mysterious phenomena. Ticket price include a copy of the novel. 48 other events on Monday, September 22
 
Check 1, Check 2 | Music & nightlife
Band plays live for first time in 20 years
Concerts
Bands coming to town and just-announced shows
Film
New indie from Lenny Abrahamson tops our coverage of movies screening around town
Editorial
Lying signature gatherers add to undemocratic referendum process

 

 
Log in to use your Facebook account with
San Diego CityBeat

Login With Facebook Account

Recent Activity on San Diego CityBeat
 
Home / Articles / Special Issues / Summer guide /  Janey the orangutan is 50!
. . . .
Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Janey the orangutan is 50!

Aging ape still charming visitors at the San Diego Zoo

By Dave Maass
janey6 Janey is the greatest of apes.
- Photo by Dave Maass

The artist doesn’t flinch when a toddler presses a finger to further smudge the already well-smeared glass. Instead, the artist pops a little green seed in and out of her lips on the other side of the panel, playfully, before setting her head in her hands like Rodin’s thinker.

The artist holds the pose, then strikes a few new ones, as tourists reach out with cameras and camera phones attempting, mostly without success, to capture her essence through the reflection of their own brightly patterned blouses. The artist humors them, because she’s older than probably 90 percent of her visitors.

The artist’s name is Janey, and she’s a 50-year-old orangutan, and even though her legs and feet are slowed by arthritis and her black skin shows through her bald shoulders, she still knows she’s special. She’s the oldest at the San Diego Zoo, the sole Bornean and the only one in the enclosure that will actually use—and not snap and splinter—paint brushes when she slathers paint on a canvas.

Orangutans in human care can live into their late 50s. Janey is as full of life as Betty White.

“She always has that mentality of, like, ‘I may be the oldest one in the room, but I’m full of spitfire,’” keeper Tanya Howard says. “She still has that, but she’s a very sweet, gentle animal.”

Any portrait of the artist as a young primate must necessarily be filled with tragedy. Times were different in 1962. Kidnapping orangutans was commonplace in the rain forests of Borneo, where a mother would be killed just to rip the infant from her long, powerful arms. Janey was kept by private owners in England, about whom little is known except that they taught her to smoke tobacco, until she was acquired by the zoo in 1984. She gave birth to two females in London, but she couldn’t be a good mother because she didn’t learn how to be one, having hardly known her own mother.

But she celebrated a happy 50th. The first to enter the enclosure each morning, she discovered cupcakes and toys just for her. She figured it out immediately, Howard says.

“She’s such an old animal that she knows everything. She’s seen it all; she’s been through it all,” Howard says. “She knows what’s expected of her. She’s willing to do it, which is an added bonus, because they are so smart and they are so strong that you can’t make an orangutan do what they don’t want to do. When you first meet her, she’s the one you can learn off of because she’s just, like, ‘OK. Let me tell you what you’re supposed to do.’ And if you do something wrong, she looks at you like, ‘No we’re doing this right now.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

In the wild, orangutans aren’t social, choosing to live solitary, arboreal lives that they can’t in a zoo setting. Instead, Janey spends some moments alone in a special spot out of sight, then moves to the edge of the enclosure to bask in the sun on the moat’s precipice, her so-very-human hands shading her eyes. Later, she contemplates using a stick to dig for a flavored sauce in a little hole meant to approximate a termite mound, and after that, she’s showing off at the window. Some children squeal and refuse to get close, others walk straight up to try to connect hand to hand, eye to eye, against the glass.
And the artist obliges.

You can visit Janey during the zoo’s summer hours, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 22 through Sept. 3, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 4 through Sept. 21. Write to davem@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.




 
 
 
 
 
 
Close
Close
Close