Wattana: An Orangutan in Paris

Written by Chris Herzfeld | Translated by Oliver Y. Martin and Robert D. Martin | University of Chicago Press | April 26, 2016

She likes tea, sews, draws on papers and is a self-taught master of tying and untying knots. But she is not a crafty woman of the DIY set: she is Wattana, an orangutan who lives in the Jardin des Plantes Zoo in Paris. And it is in Paris where Chris Herzfeld first encounters and becomes impressed by Wattana and her exceptional abilities with knots.

Offering a uniquely intimate look at the daily lives of captive great apes, Herzfeld uses Wattana’s life to trace the history of orangutans from their first arrival in Europe in 1776 to the inhabitants of the Zoo of Paris and other zoos today. She provides a close look at the habits, technical know-how, and skills of Wattana, who, remarkably, uses strings, paper rolls, rope, and even pieces of wood to make things.  And she thoughtfully explores how apes individually—and often with ingenuity—come to terms with and adapt to their captive environments and caretakers.

Through these stories, Wattana sympathetically reveals the extraordinary psychology and distinctive personalities of great apes as well as the interconnections between animal and human lives, especially in zoos.

More information is available on the publisher's website.

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