Party animal Rajang celebrates his big 40

IF he was human, he would be a judge - thoughtful, philosophical and calm.But that hasn't stopped his playful side from inviting some lucky Evening Star readers to his 40th birthday party - just don't mention his age.

RAJANG the orang-utan, one of Colchester Zoo's most popular residents, is preparing to turn 40.

As preparations for his June 14 birthday celebrations continue, we sent Evening Star reporter SIMON TOMLINSON to interview the ageing animal.

IF he was human, he would be a judge - thoughtful, philosophical and calm.

But that hasn't stopped his playful side from inviting some lucky Evening Star readers to his 40th birthday party - just don't mention his age.

Rajang the orang-utan, a much-respected resident at Colchester Zoo, today spoke in his trademark underwhelmed manner about how he is looking forward to the celebrations.

And to mark the milestone, we are offering readers the chance to win one of five VIP family tickets (two adults and two children) to Colchester Zoo, where they can meet Rajang's keepers and join in the party.

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The ageing bachelor, who has lived in Colchester for 28 years, said: “I have no idea how old I am and I don't want to know. I have a feeling it is big birthday this time. My weakening arms and legs tell me so.

“I will definitely enjoy the attention, but it's not in my nature to show it. My face won't let me.”

Born at Chester Zoo on June 14, 1968, Rajang was hand-reared after being rejected by his mother and moved to Colchester in 1980.

Anthony Tropeano, Colchester Zoo's zoological director, has known Rajang for 25 years.

He said: “This goes some way to explain why you can build a good bond with him. He has been used to human company from an early age.

“He is a bright animal. If chimpanzees are like footballers, orang-utans are like judges. He would probably be quite academic and read The Times or The Independent.

“He would not be looking forward to turning 40, but would be looking forward to the party.”

Rajang, who loves eating fruit and has a soft spot for Ribena ice lollies, has been described as one of the real characters of the zoo - even though he might not show it all the time.

Mr Tropeano said: “Orang-utans don't have expressive faces. It is hard to tell if they are happy or sad, but if you look at the welfare indicators - his coat and diet - he looks a fairly contented animal.”

Rajang added: “Anthony is right - I am content in general. I like to be serious but only as long as I know I can have fun later. It gives me a good life balance.

“I am usually calm, but you will know about it if I get angry. It's never good to keep these things in.”

The zoo is nearing the completion of a grand £1.5m new home for Rajang, which will be eight times the size of his current residence and allow him more space to climb.

It was hoped the new centre, which has been sponsored by 440 people, would be ready in time for his birthday, but now it looks like it will be mid-August before he can enjoy his belated present.

Mr Tropeano said: “It is going to be a big challenge, but we think he is going to enjoy it. He will be able to see different things.

“There is a great deal of affection for him among staff and management. He has been a great servant to us and we want to give him something back before, inevitably, he passes away.”

Send Rajang a birthday message - write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Fast facts: Orang-utans

They are known for their intelligence, long arms and reddish-brown hair

Native to Indonesia and Malaysia, they are currently found in the wild only in rainforests on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra

Their name derives from the Malay and Indonesian phrase “orang hutan” meaning “man of the forest”

Fruit makes up 65 per cent of the orangutan diet

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