The hairs of her chin are starting to whitewash, her gestures are slow: the orangutan Nénette, star of the menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, celebrates her 50th birthday this year, a very respectable age for her species.
Heroine of a documentary film by Nicolas Philibert in 2010, painter in his spare time, Nénette seems to appreciate his celebrity. She likes to carry a plastic drum in front of the glass wall that separates it from the public, to perch on it and to contemplate the visitors, attracting the photos.
Friday, she had painting workshop. Seizing a pallet prepared by a trainer, she grabbed different colors with the mouth to apply them on the window of the enclosure. Then, with a finger, she drew lines before rubbing the ephemeral work with straw. She also paints on paper.
Nénette is now a “granny”, who has a remarkable longevity for a jungle-born orang-utan. The life expectancy of orangutans is 30 to 45 years in the wild but can go up to 60 years in captivity.
The healers of the menagerie will celebrate his birthday on June 16 by offering him a cake. In fact, the precise age of Nénette is not known. She was born in the rainforest of Borneo around 1969 and was about 3 years old when she arrived at the menagerie on June 16, 1972.
At the time, buying an orangutan on the market was still allowed. Soon after, the 1973 Washington Convention banned trade in endangered species.
“Nénette arrived in very bad condition and she had a cut phalanx,” says Norin Chaï, chief veterinarian of the menagerie.
She was snatched from her mother very early, while Orangutan females raised their children until they were 10 years old. Despite this, “the great thing about Nénette is that she had four sons and she agreed to take care of it”, which is not always the case, notes Norin Chaï .
In the wild, the orangutans of Borneo, a critically endangered species, live in trees more than 20 meters high. Installed with four of her peers in a building of the 1930s, “Nénette sleeps high on a platform, in a nest that she makes with care,” says the head cheeper Christelle Hano.
From the safe space reserved for the caretakers, the young woman begins the medical training of Nénette, equipped with a wooden spoon. Separated by a grid, she asks him to touch the spoon with different parts of his body. “Show me your ear. Very well. Well done darling, “she said, rewarding her with a small piece of cake. “Do you do the shoulder, pretty girl?”
This daily training facilitates the administration of animal care through the grid but also reduces the apprehension of orangutans in front of the man and distract them.
“Nénette and I have known each other for 20 years,” says the nurse. “Before she was vicious, especially with girls. If she could get us, she was doing it, “catching shoes or fingers, she says. Nénette has a few accidents to her credit.
Because if it is not very big (about 1.10 meters), it weighs between 65 and 70 kilos and its muscular strength is very important, like that of other orangutans.
“For about ten years, Nénette has changed and she has become quiet. She has reached the age of wisdom, “says Christelle Hano.
Side heart, Nénette knew three males. Her four sons are now dead but she is a grandmother. Patron of the orangutan group of the monkey until 2015, she is now dominated by another female and a male. It has an independent box so as not to be bothered.
On the health side, Nénette had to have a severe abscess in the abdomen in 2007. She has hypothyroidism and has been treated for three years with Levothyrox.
Nénette also suffers from osteoarthritis at the hip and is treated for this. “We manage it like an old person,” summarizes Norin Chai.