Ibu is our amazing “Artist in Residence” and a super mom

Ibu and her newborn Zaini at 4 months old.

Ibu, our female Sumatran orangutan, arrived at the El Paso Zoo on June 16, 1997 when she was just six years old.

She was born at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. The handful of zoo employees who have known her over the past 25 years, think of her not only as an conservation ambassador for her critically endangered species and Asia rainforest animals, but also as the matriarch of our great ape family. Like our Asian elephant Savannah, who arrived at the Zoo from the Baton Rouge Zoo four months earlier and has been the matriarch of our elephants for over twenty years, both are known to more people in El Paso than any animals at the Zoo today.

Ibu has received a lot of media attention mainly as a result of the two babies she and her mate Butch have brought into the world. Our female youngster Khalessi was born on April 23, 2015 and our newborn male Zaini was born on June 9, 2022. Ibu is without a doubt a super mother and we are so happy to have her and our growing orangutan family here in El Paso.

Zaini at 4 months old


Christmas Eve 2012

One of my most memorable moments with Ibu occurred on Christmas Eve, 2012. Butch was spending his second Christmas in El Paso and our orangutan keepers were asking for help with blankets. Orangutans love to play with blankets and some believe that when they put them over their bodies they are displaying natural behaviors like wild orangutans who will take large leaves from the rainforest and use them as umbrellas and shelters to protect themselves from the common rains.

I invited two local students to come to the Zoo and help me wrap up presents for Ibu and Butch. With the help of their keepers Ibu received a red blanket and Butch a large ball. There were just a few visitors at the Zoo that day, but the moments were captured on video.


Ibu is a published artist

What many people coming to the Zoo don’t know about Ibu is how she is also our unofficial ‘Artist in Residence’ and as far as we know the only animal at the Zoo who’s artwork has been published. Back in 2009 one of her paintings was published by Whitehall Publishing in a book entitled Fur in My Paint by Tifane Grayce. The book is out of print, but used copies can still be found on Amazon.com and other online bookstores.

Several of Ibu’s paintings are displayed inside the classroom at the El Paso Water Discovery Education Center.



The following book reviews are posted on Amazon.com.

Tifane Grayce gives us a look at some really unique art as she explores the work of artists from around the world! Imagine yourself strolling through a gallery of modern art and being taken by the wild, bright colors, undulating shapes and feather-like textures that only masters can achieve. Masters? Well, these are masters of a different kind or shall I say species… Fur In My Paint explores wild animals who create art from scorpions to beaded lizards, macaws to elephants, and sea lions to gorillas! A brilliant activity for any animal in an animal park or conservation center, painting stimulates the animals and acts as an important enrichment activity. Not only do the animals produce some really nice art, but it s valuable for conservation fund-raising! –Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus, Columbus Zoo, Host, TV s Into the Wild .

Fur in My Paint is really fun and interesting! It showcases not only stunningly beautiful artwork created by wild creatures cared for at zoological parks, but in few words, provides an exceptional insight into unique individual personalities each animal showing preferences, and at times apparent intent, in how they choose to paint. Having worked for decades as an animal trainer at SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, I especially like the way the book highlights the importance of enrichment through the descriptions offered with each art creation. The close relationships developed between the animals and their caretakers is exemplified, as is the length keepers and trainers will go to provide stimulating opportunities for their charges. This is a masterpiece I will share with my animal and art loving friends and colleagues and I can t wait to paint with some of my best friends! –Julie Scardina, SeaWorld & Busch Gardens, Animal Ambassador.

Rich in texture and content with a visually exciting layout, FUR IN MY PAINT is a work of art in the truest sense! Tifane Grayce has done a magnificent job of showcasing each masterpiece and its animal creator in a way that pays tribute to both artist and trainer alike. Filled with glorious examples of what understanding and dedication can accomplish FUR IN MY PAINT shows us how current day zoos have come a long way from the stereotypical lion pacing in barren cages of the past. If you purchase only one coffee table book in your lifetime, this is the book! –Laine Raia. Author, editor and proprietor of The Ponderaia, North Reading, MA.

Rick LoBello, Education Curator

Photos by Rick LoBello

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