Singapore Zoo’s well-known orangutan lives on as her granddaughter steps into her footprints; New icon said to resemble grandmother in her younger days, exhibits traits of a matriarch

Image 1 [LEFT] Formerly known as Ishta, the new Ah Meng steps boldly into her grandmother’s footprints to continue the legacy left behind by the original icon.

Image 2 [RIGHT] Ah Meng’s first role as the newly crowned ambassador of Singapore Zoo was to cast a handprint in clay for posterity. Mr Alagappasamy Chellaiyah, Primate Specialist, Singapore Zoo (left), Mr Mike Barclay, CEO, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (centre) and Mr Kumaran Sesshe, head keeper, great apes, Singapore Zoo proudly show off Ah Meng’s handprint. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE

Singapore, 26 February 2016 – Ah Meng lives on at Singapore Zoo, as the much-awaited animal icon was revealed today ahead of Safari Zoo Run 2016, a race originally conceptualised to honour Singapore’s favourite orangutan. Formerly known as Ishta, the new queen of the jungle will officially begin her reign as Singapore Zoo’s animal ambassador.

The first Ah Meng was Singapore Zoo’s famous matriarch and one of Singapore’s most adored personalities. As a critically endangered Sumatran orangutan and one of the most iconic in the Zoo’s collection, Ah Meng was an excellent ambassador for her species and all threatened animals. Her role as Singapore’s first non-human tourism ambassador brought fame to Singapore Zoo and in turn, helped open people’s eyes to the plight of orangutans in the wild.

Although she passed on in 2008, she left behind many legacies, in the form of her offspring and their kin, and the passing on of her nurturing qualities as a super mom to the younger orangutans. She is survived by six family members in Singapore Zoo

Ishta is the natural choice and the perfect candidate to carry on Ah Meng’s name. Aside from having a strong resemblance to her famous grandmother, she exhibits the makings of a matriarch—patience, tolerance towards the other orangutans, and a friendly personality.

Born on 8 March 2011, she is the first offspring of Ah Meng’s late daughter Sayang and Galdikas, a male orangutan from Frankfurt Zoo. When Sayang fell ill, Ishta was fostered by her cousin Chomel who was then raising Bino, her biological son. Ishta also has a biological sister, Endah.

Like her grandmother, she savours durians and is a sociable and affectionate orangutan, both towards her kind and her keepers. Her best friend is Bino, and the pair is often seen wildly traversing the vines and branches of the free-ranging orangutan habitat together. She takes after her grandmother not just in appearance but has the same appreciation for cleanliness.

Mr Mike Barclay, CEO, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said, “Orangutans have been synonymous with Singapore Zoo from the day our gates opened. No story about Singapore Zoo is complete without a mention of these charismatic apes, with Ah Meng being the greatest of them all. It is fitting that her legacy endures through her kin, so we can continue talking to people about the threats facing Asia’s only great ape and seek to inspire them to take action to help conserve our orangutans’ wild cousins.”

Mr Alagappasamy Chellaiyah, former Zoology Assistant Director and lifelong caretaker of Ah Meng, said, “Many Singaporeans shared a special love story with Ah Meng for over three decades, and I’m privileged to have been her keeper since the day she arrived. Till today, people come up to me and say they remember Ah Meng, not just locals but tourists as well. It is hard to believe that she had such a great impact on so many people. I’m thrilled that Ah Meng’s name, and legacy, will live on through Ishta.”

While the new Ah Meng may have big footprints to fill, she seems to be taking it all in her stride. Although still young, she is already accustomed to engaging guests during Singapore Zoo’s signature dining programme—Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife, and looks set to swing into the hearts of Singaporeans in years to come.

To celebrate the crowning of the new queen, a series of illustrations which captures the various facets of her personality has been developed. These depict her in various poses and should further endear the new Ah Meng to people of all ages.

Singapore Zoo is home to 27 orangutans, eight of which are Sumatran while the rest are of the Bornean species. The population of Sumatran orangutans in the wild is estimated at fewer than 7,000, making this species critically endangered. Borneans number about 50,000 in the wild and are listed as endangered

The park’s highly successful global conservation breeding programme has seen more than 40 births in the past 42 years. Of these, some have been sent to various zoos in Malaysia, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka as part of a global exchange programme.

Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which manages Singapore Zoo, supports several in-situ orangutan conservation projects in Kalimantan—either through funding, staff expertise, or provision of much-needed veterinary supplies and equipment. To help further preserve orangutan habitats in the wild, all food and beverage outlets in Wildlife Reserves Singapore parks use only sustainable palm oil.

Ah Meng will meet visitors four times weekly at Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife, and also at selected photography sessions. Outside these activities, Ah Meng can be spotted swinging about or chilling in the free-ranging orangutan habitat.

Image 3 [LEFT]: Ah Meng shares a tender moment with Mr Kumaran Sesshe, Head Keeper of great apes, Singapore Zoo. She will turn five years old this March, and is the granddaughter of the first Ah Meng, who died of old age in February 2008.

Image 4 [RIGHT]: The newly crowned Ah Meng will meet visitors four times weekly at Jungle Breakfast with Wildlife and at selected photography sessions. Outside these activities, she can be spotted swinging about or chilling in the free-ranging orangutan habitat. The critically endangered Sumatran orangutan is the new animal ambassador of Singapore Zoo. PHOTO CREDITS: WILDLIFE RESERVES SINGAPORE