Jaya celebrated his sixth birthday Friday with bagels and whipped cream, some new balls to toss around, a kitchen strainer he insisted on wearing as a hat — and a $66,000 check to preserve his species.
As birthdays go for orangutans, it was a pretty good one.
Jaya, his parents Markisa and Jambu, and female friend Amanda were joined by several humans Friday at the Como Park Zoo for presentation of the gift by international executive Johannes Marliem, who was born and raised in Indonesia and wants to save the endangered apes native to his homeland.
“This is a species almost extinct, and we’d like to do something about it,” said Marliem, 29, who runs consulting and technology firms with offices in Minneapolis, India and Indonesia.
“We are lucky that we have a 20-month-old daughter that I can bring to Como to see the orangutans. Whether that can happen for our grandkids …”
Marliem’s donation went to the nonprofit Como Friends, which raises money for the St. Paul zoo and conservatory and invests in its programs. Como is especially important in the orangutan world because primate keeper Megan Elder is international orangutan studbook keeper for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums — putting her in the vanguard of global efforts to keep captive orangutans alive and well.
The gift “will be used to benefit the orangutans at Como Zoo and also support the international conservation work we do to support orangutans around the world, work primarily done by Megan,” Como Friends President Jackie Sticha said.
Jaya is well-known among primate experts because he was delivered by Caesarean section at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine — only the ninth such surgery worldwide.
Marliem chose to make the donation in honor of Jaya’s birthday and tailored the amount to reflect the fact that he’s 6. “There’s something special about him,” he said.
“It’s a phenomenal gift,” Sticha said. “Johannes is incredibly generous, and his passion for the orangutans is so authentic. It’s a great aligning of stars.”