Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Portrait of Schnitz (On World Orangutan Day)

Meet my friend Schnitz on World Orangutan Day!

Photo Credit: The Virginia Zoo
I love orangutans, and I'm very fond of this one. Schnitz is the big man on campus… the Virginia Zoo campus. He's kind of a lovable slob. When he makes his nest at night, it's just heaps of straw any old which way; as long as he has his special blanket, he's comfortable.
Preliminary sketch (eyes): "Schnitz"

On his birthday this summer he relaxed in his "recliner" - the front left corner of his enclosure, by the window. In this favorite spot he regally ignored all visitors and his best girl Pepper to munch on his birthday treat - a whole bundle of branches just for him.

Schnitz is in his thirties, late middle age for a captive orangutan and elderly for wild orangutans. He and Pepper are both zoo born and were playmates when they were little. They were reunited in 1995, then came to the Virginia Zoo together in 2011. They are a bonded pair. Once I saw them sitting together with their arms around each other's shoulders. He gently leaned over to kiss her cheek. 

"Schnitz" with his blanket.
I hoped to be finished with Schnitz's portrait today, but I only got most of the blocking-in done.

Schnitz is a hybrid of the two species of orangutan, the Sumatra and the Borneo. So is Pepper. That doesn't happen under the AZA Species Survival Plan these days. It doesn't make this couple any less wonderful, but they aren't a breeding pair. 

The goals of the Species Survival Plan are to provide a self-sustaining, genetically diverse captive population of orangutans for education, to maintain these critically endangered animals, and if possible to help prevent their extinction. Many people express dismay at the captivity of intelligent primates like orangutans. I agree wholeheartedly with them. I wish all orangutans were wild and free in their natural habitat. 

Photo Credit: Rhett Butler/Mongabay
The sad fact is, that habitat is rapidly disappearing. The forests are being replaced by palm oil plantations.  Just 15% of the forest species can survive in the plantations. Orangutans aren't one of them.  Palm oil acreage worldwide increased from 15 million acres in 1990 to 40 million acres in 2011 according to the Union for Concerned Scientists Palm oil is used in everything from french fries to shampoo.

Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists
Use the Palm Oil Scorecard to see how the companies you make purchases from shape up in using non-deforestation palm oil.

Lately I've seen the term "compassionate conservation". Though he didn't use that term, Dr. Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words, describes it as the mindset that animals are not "WHAT" but "WHO", individuals who matter to their families and their friends, who have emotions like us, think, and in some cases grieve like we do. Individual beings who can love, by any definition we use for the many ways we humans feel love. That's not unicorns and rainbows. Decades of scientific evidence have led here. 

So this is a small tribute to one individual orangutan who I think is interesting, serene, beautiful, and intelligent. I don't know what he thinks or how it feels to be Schnitz. I can only enjoy being near him and admiring him. Every time I see him, I wonder how his wild fellows are faring. Are we smart enough to save their habitat?

Happy World Orangutan Day, Schnitz!


  1. Schnitz is terrific ~ just look at that face, his expression! Every time I head down to the Natl Zoo, the orangutan's are always on my must-see list, so fascinating to watch. (BTW, where is the Virginia zoo? although a former native of Va am not familiar with it?) ... just joined your blog as a follower, think I'll enjoy visiting here; and thanks for the link to the panda news, am going to check that out next.

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  3. The Virginia Zoo is in Norfolk, an AZA accredited zoo. It is a little gem of a zoo and I'm proud to be a docent there, helping them educate visitors and schoolchildren about wildlife and conservation. You can check out the zoo at their home page: I'm a big fan of the National Zoo - my favorites there are the gorillas :) Thank you so much for following. I've been following Zoolatry for some time and always enjoy your posts.

  4. That is a gorgeous portrait!! Bravo you are very very talented. I don't think I've ever seen a portrait of an orangutan
    You are very good at capturing his expression
    Hugs madi and mom

    1. Thank you for the kind words Madi and Mom!

  5. How interesting to know there two are a bonded pair. We think all species need a best friend or life can be lonely.

  6. We just linked this post on our Saturday post for Caturday Art; love your artwork of Schnitz ... you should join the Caturday Art Blog Hop when you have artwork to share ...


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