Pictured above: Anette, “the inquisitive one” according to the zoo’s website, looking at us like she knows we had cake for breakfast, too.

Since 1988, the Canada’s New Noah program has given young biologists in Canada the opportunity of a lifetime. Each year, Wildlife Preservation Canada selects a post-secondary graduate from dozens of applicants across Canada for the single, coveted position on the tropical island of Mauritius in the western Indian Ocean to complete a program featuring hands-on management of some of the most endangered species in the world. Rosie Heffernan is WPC’s 2024 Canada’s New Noah and reports on her experiences.

After a long week marking the end of our first month in DESMAN (Durrell Endangered Species Management), a friend and I decided to reward ourselves by bringing some petits gâteaux (as she would say in her homeland of Mauritius) to the zoo and enjoying a sweet snack in the presence of the ‘people of the forest,’ also known as orangutans (orang meaning ‘person’ and utan meaning ‘forest’ in Malay, the native language of Sumatra, Indonesia, where these great apes originate)

To our great delight and surprise, one of the orangutans seemed to be as curious about us as we were about her. Pulling up a hollow drum used for food that was empty at the moment, she deftly flipped it upside down to make a stool and placed it just on the other side of the glass from us, where she then sat down and contemplated us with an inquisitiveness that could only have been drawn from a deep spring of emotional and intellectual awareness.

In awe, my companion and I watched her watch us, honoured that she seemed to think we were worthy of her notice. As she studied us with intent, her eyes suddenly fell upon our gâteaux, and she immediately hopped off her makeshift stool and ambled away in a swinging jumble of arms and legs – a lumbering grace that could be emulated by no other species.

My friend and I looked at each other in abject horror, wondering what we had done to offend the hairiest member of our trio. Luckily, before we could become too distraught, she returned less than a minute later, a luscious green surprise between her hands. Cabbage. As awareness dawned that our new friend had merely gone to retrieve her own snack so she could participate in our picnic, we became giddy with delight once more, though we tried to keep our overt excitement to a minimum so she would know we were cool.

As if she had never left, the elegant behemoth sat back down on her stool with her cabbage and an air of resigned amusement, as if she were saying, “Relax, I was gone for two seconds.” I could almost see her eyes rolling at our poorly contained, erratic human emotions, as she silently and steadily pulled off the dry, outer leaves of the cabbage to better access the bright green interior. And so, we ate, humans on one side of the wall and orangutan on the other, but somehow it felt like there wasn’t much of a wall between us at all.

Rosie Heffernan

Canada’s New Noah

Rosie is WPC’s 33rd New Noah. She is building upon a wealth of conservation knowledge that she has gained working in conservation in Ontario and Costa Rica through this hands-on training program with some of the most endangered species in the world.

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