Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo Celebrates the Arrival of Bornean Orangutan Chelsea and Continues Global Leadership in Orangutan Conservation

November 01, 2016
Stephanie Miller 608-267-8823
County Executive

Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo today announced the arrival of a third Bornean orangutan, Chelsea (26) who joins the zoo’s Bornean orangutans Datu and Kawan. Chelsea’s arrival is significant to Dane County Henry Vilas Zoo’s commitment to orangutan conservation, as it is hoped she will serve as a mentor “mom” to Kawan if she is to have another baby. All three orangutans are part of the Orangutan Species Survival Program (SSP), of which Henry Vilas Zoo is a leading participant.


“We are excited to add Chelsea to our Zoo family,” said Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. “Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo is a proud leader in orangutan conservation.”


“Chelsea is an experienced older female orangutan mother and we know that orangutans can learn from each other so the hope is that Kawan will have another female available to help with any offspring if needed in the future,” said Zoo Director, Ronda Schwetz.


Chelsea’s arrival was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Madison community last December on Giving Tuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back.


“Giving Tuesday is an important part of the Friends’ efforts to support our zoo, and we are incredibly grateful to our Madison community for helping us bring Chelsea back to Henry Vilas Zoo,” said Friends of the Zoo Executive Director Alison Prange.


Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are both critically endangered, and zoos are playing a significant role in planning for species survival. Dane County’s Henry Vilas Zoo is a leader in orangutan conservation. This month, Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz will lead her 9th trip to Borneo as part of the Orangutan SSP Field Conservation Program. This important program helps orangutans and other endangered species in Indonesia and Malaysia.


“These trips result in bringing together animal care experts from both sides of the globe to work towards sharing best practices in animal care excellence.” Said Zoo Director Ronda Schwetz, “An additional benefit is the lifelong friendships formed from caretakers working together and exchanging ideas on how to best help animal conservation and care.”


While in Asia, the Orangutan SSP group participants, will partner with orangutan rehabilitation centers and zoos in Indonesia and Malaysia, by cultivating relationships with and providing support to leading field conservationists. The SSP participants will also deliver medical supplies to several zoos and orangutan rehabilitation centers, build enrichment and improve housing for several different species.


Henry Vilas Zoo’s orangutans are important ambassadors to connecting our community to orangutans and the threats facing their relatives in the wild. Zoos are conservation organizations, and when you support the Henry Vilas Zoo, you support conservation, education and community. For more information, please visit our website at www.vilaszoo.org




The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan (SSP) serves 54 accredited zoos across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to help guide the management of the captive orangutan populations in North America. The primary goals of an SSP are to maximize retention of genetic diversity and to promote cooperation among holding institutions to ensure the long-term survival of these species in captivity. Both species of orangutan (Bornean and Sumatran) are now classified as critically endangered in the wild. In the face of threats to wild populations, the management of orangutans in human care across the world is becoming

Back to Press Releases