Laney lay in the great rope net, basking in the sun. Around her the other apes explored their new shared habitat. Out the corner of her eye she was aware of Sunda, Geeta’s two year-old daughter, clamboring about on the large metal climbing structures overhead.
The juvenile was trying to extract a piece of fruit hidden inside a toy by inserting her entire hand into the hole, but was unable to withdraw her clenched fist. Again and again she tried, occasionally abandoning the approach in favor of sticking her face into the opening. She hadn’t yet learned the trick of the toy: turn it upside down and let the food fall out.
Laney had been a zoo orangutan her entire life, born and raised here. She understood the distinction between herself and the humans who took care of her troop just as she did between herself and Arthur and Mary, the mated siamangs who’d shared her habitat since she was Sunda’s age. It was a nice enough life, as far as she could conceive of such things: there was always plenty to eat, things to play with, and she enjoyed the presence of the humans. She’d spent part of the morning pressed up against the glass at the ground floor of their enclosure, making faces at and playing tapping games with the visitors who came up. They were such silly things.
This was her seventh habitat change, and the largest. It still smelled like their old enclosure, but they had more grass to roll around in, more toys to play with, more intricate structures to climb on and over. Chester, their great big shaggy male, had been preoccupied with fishing food out of a termite mound since they’d emerged from their sleeping quarters that morning. But where the others were content to explore, Laney had already found what she needed, and after playtime had climbed up into the new netting to doze.
She had no real concept of time, but she had good memory, and as she dozed Laney thought back to one of her first new habitats. The keepers had forgotten one of the tools, a long metal thing with a split hooked end, and it had taken her very little time to figure out how useful it was for taking the structures apart, including the exhibit doors. She’d had a fun time wandering around the rest of the zoo among the humans before her keepers brought her back.
Sunda was still struggling with the toy, and Laney watched as Mary, her pregnant belly bulging, swung closer to the oblivious young orangutan. Even heavy with child she was effortless, swooping in just as Sunda finally succeeded in extracting the fruit, snatching it from the smaller ape’s hand, and dropping into the net next to Laney before leaping off towards another part of the habitat. Sunda, not to be denied her reward, took off in hot pursuit, plopping onto Laney’s stomach before tumbling out of the net as she did so.
Laney watched them go. When she was sure they were off squabbling elsewhere, she extracted herself from the net and made her way up to where Sunda had been perched. She was getting older, and wasn’t climbing as fast as she used to, but she was in no rush. She examined the toy the juvenile has been playing with.
The small shiny metal tool was still safe where she’d hidden it. It had been lying there in the taller grass when she’d emerged in the morning, unseen by anyone else. This one had moving parts; it could clamp around parts of their habitat, turning and manipulating parts that were otherwise unmovable. She replaced the tool and returned to her afternoon nap in the rope net.
Laney was clever, and as she dozed she thought about all the uses her new discovery could be put to.
She enjoyed her life in the zoo, but it was nice to go exploring every now and then.