For love of pri­mates

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE - By KATASHA McCUL­LOUGH

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.

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