For love of primates
KALEM Berntsen reckons he has a dream job.
The 22-year-old is a primate zookeeper at Auckland Zoo.
He grew up on a lifestyle block in the Coromandel where his favourite pastime as a child was looking after the family’s many animals, from sheep to quail to fish.
Berntsen studied for a certificate of animal management at Unitec and specialised in captive wild animals.
He completed his student placement at Auckland Zoo and was offered a job in November 2012 after doing some extra volunteer work.
‘‘No matter how much you know you never stop learning, not only about the individual animal but the species out in the wild and the issues they’re facing.’’
An average day for Berntsen involves feeding and training the animals, cleaning enclosures and monitoring behaviour.
He also challenges them with different enrichment devices, which he says is a key part of what made him fall in love with primates.
‘‘It’s really rewarding making different devices that challenge them and it’s cool to watch as they try to figure out how to solve the puzzle,’’ he says.
Berntsen looks after a range of primates, including squirrel monkeys, lemurs and baboons.
He occasionally works with the orangutans alongside zookeeper in charge.
Wild orangutans are only found on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, where they are threatened by the illegal clearing of
the their rainforest habitat by the palm oil and paper industries.
The Bornean orangutan is endangered and the Sumatran species is critically endangered.
Berntsen says everyone has a responsibility to do their best for animals and take steps to help them thrive in their environment.
‘‘There are so many really cool animals out there which all play a really important role in their ecosystem . . . if one species disappears from an ecosystem it can have a ripple effect and other species can be affected,’’ Berntsen says.
Auckland Zoo has supported the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme for more than 12 years.
Its director Dr Ian Singleton is visiting Auckland to give a public talk called In Your Hands about his experiences, orangutans and conservation.
All profits from ticket sales will go to Earth 4 Orangutan which Singleton helped found.
Proceeds will help build a centre in North Sumatra for orangutans rescued from the illegal pet trade or injured in the wild.
In Your Hands is at 7pm on August 19 at the Bruce Mason Centre.
Tickets are $20. Call 360 3805 or visit Auckland Zoo’s information centre.
Furry friends: Zookeeper Kalem Berntsen, 22, in the lemur enclosure at Auckland Zoo.
Endangered: Bornean orangutan Charlie from Auckland Zoo.