Strange bedfellows can occasionally make strange friends, and this has certainly proved to be the case in the Pairi Daiza zoo in Belgium.

A large male orangutan (incredibly furry) points to a group of otters standing at his feet.
Ujian captivating his otter friends within the Indonesian Flower Temple enclosure © Pascale Jones / Pairi Daiza

The Brugelette-based facility has a history of pairing species together – penguins with seals, buffaloes with zebras, pelicans with kangaroos, colobus monkeys with gorillas – in an effort to enrich their lives, but none have been as entertaining as the grouping of orangutans and the Asian small-clawed otters.

The romp of otters live within a river that flows through Pairi Daiza’s Indonesian Flower Temple, the enclosure which is home to a family of three orangutans: 24-year-old Ujian, his 15-year-old partner Sari and their four-year-old son Berani.

Pairi Daiza spokesperson Mathieu Goedefroy told Lonely Planet: “The otters really enjoy getting out of the water on the orangutan island to go and play with their big, furry friends. Especially baby Berani and daddy Ujian have developed a very special bond with their neighbours.”

A four-year-old orangutan sits on a low wood structure and peers underneath where several otters are hiding.
Fun and games, the otters seem to be playing hide-and-seek with Berani © Pascale Jones / Pairi Daiza

Goedefroy went on to add that an animal’s happiness and wellbeing in captivity has more to do than just the size and quality of its enclosure. “This means that an animal – and this is even more the case of orangutans, with whom humans share 97% of their DNA – must be entertained, occupied, challenged and kept busy mentally, emotionally and physically at all times.”

So while the otters play a part in enriching the lives of the orangutans, Goedefroy notes that: “The zoo also has a  have a very strong ‘enrichment’ program for our orangutans, where our keepers entertain them all day long with mind games, riddles, puzzles, and other stuff to train their intelligence.”

A baby orangutan lays on the ground with both arms outstretched to an otter (as if offering it something).
A warm welcome, Berani opens his arms for one of the otters © Pascale Jones / Pairi Daiza

Ujian, Sari and Berani have called Pairi Daiza home since 2017 after being moved from the German zoo of Heidelberg. Their native stomping grounds in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra have been suffering from rapid deforestation due to palm oil exploitation, and as such wild orangutans are incredibly threatened.

“With our orangutans, we try to raise awareness and we participate in a project to restore a part of the Borneo forest for them,” said Goedefroy. “Thanks to Ujian, Berani and Sari we have raised funds to plant 11,000 trees there, in order to help their cousins in the wild, who suffer every day.”

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