Happy birthday, Bess!

We’re celebrating all month long! 

The matriarch of the orangutan group, Bess was born at the Phoenix Zoo in March of 1979. Shy and sensitive, she can be very interactive with people when she wants to be.
Of the four orangutans, she is most adept at solving problems and puzzles.

Bess is the mother of Jiwa, who is her second offspring.

  • Birthday Party!
  • Tuesday, March 26
  • Wish List
  • WILD Birthday Giveaway
  • Palm Oil Crisis
  • Fun Facts!
  • Photos

March 23 & 24 | 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Phoenix Zoo orangutans

  • Sign Bess’ enormous birthday card!
  • Birthday-themed behavioral enrichment for Bess, Michael, Jiwa and Daniel (including a birthday cake!)
  • Register to win a Wild Birthday party at the Zoo, along with an orangutan plush!
  • ZooTeens onsite educating guests about orangutans
  • Palm oil education booth
  • Phoenix Zoo Auxiliary onsite selling Charity Charms to benefit the non-profit Zoo
Cupcakes Courtesy of Fry’s Food Stores!
Bess officially turns 40 on Tuesday, March 26 and to celebrate,
at 9 a.m. the first 500 people through the Zoo’s entry will receive a birthday cupcake* compliments of Fry’s Food Stores.
*A ticket will be given upon entry to be redeemed for a cupcake near the orangutan habitat on the Tropic’s Trail. One cupcake per ticket.
Plus, check out a special offer from Fry’s Food Stores below!

Bess’ 40th Birthday Wish List

As one of the largest non-profit, privately funded zoological parks in the country, the Phoenix Zoo relies exclusively on its own earned income and the support of members, donors and the local corporate community to provide funds for operations and capital improvements of exhibits and guest experiences.

Many Zoo departments have a Wish List of items that they need to better meet the needs of our animals and guests. You can donate items directly from our Wish List or you can contact the Development department at 602.286.3800 x 7345 to make a monetary donation for us to make the purchases. All donations are tax deductible as permitted by the law.

Wish List items can be dropped off at Guest Services.


It’s Bess’ 40th birthday and to celebrate we’re giving away a WILD Birthday prize pack! Register to win the prize pack on your next visit to the Zoo (through March 24) in the Gift Shop or Guest Services building.

Bornean orangutan Bess with her baby. Phoenix Zoo.

Prize Pack Includes:*

  • Orangutan plush animal
  • Admission to the Zoo for up to 10 children and 12 adults
  • Reserved party ramada for 1.5 hours
  • Your own personal party host
  • Party favor bag for each child
  • T-shirt for the birthday child
  • Craft activity with party host
  • Cake, ice cream and lemonade for all party guests
  • Plates, napkins, spoons and candles
  • One carousel ride or Stingray Bay admission

*No purchase necessary. One entry per person. Must be 18 years old to enter. Need not be present to win. Winner notified on April 1, 2019. Dates and restrictions may apply. Package add-ons not included. Party must take place before April 1, 2020. Must make reservations with the Zoo’s reservations center. 

Other Activities

  • Be on the lookout for various Creature Features at our orangutan habitat and throughout the entire Zoo! 
  • Make a birthday card for Bess and drop off at Guest Services!
  • Dye your hair red or sport your favorite red apparel in honor of Bess, the Zoo’s favorite red-head! Tag us (@phoenixzoo) for a chance to be featured on our social media channels.

Orangutans are in trouble, but YOU can help!

Orangutans are endangered in the wild, but there are several simple things that you can do to help protect them. The biggest challenge facing wild orangutans is habitat loss as trees in their rainforests are cut down for use in wood products or to create palm oil plantations. Demand for timber and palm oil is growing while habitat for orangutans and other rainforest animals is rapidly dwindling.

What Is Palm Oil?  

  • It’s edible oil made from the fruit of the African oil palm tree.
  • It’s grown on plantations throughout the tropics, but most of the world’s palm oil is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • On product labels it’s also called palm kernel oil or palmitate. 
  • You probably use palm oil every day; it is used in many common foods, cosmetics and cleaning products. 
  • You can help reduce forest loss by purchasing products that use sustainable palm oil and by supporting the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Look for the RSPO logo as a sign that the products you’re purchasing are friendly to orangutans and other Asian rainforest animals.

Palm Oil App: Look for this icon on the Google Play or App Store!

How Can You Help Save Trees? 

  • Download the Sustainable Palm Oil App from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!
  • Ask stores where their wood products come from and avoid wood from tropical locations unless you can confirm that it was sustainably produced.
  • Buy tools with plastic or metal handles, as many wood handled tools are made from ramin, which is logged from Bornean forests.
  • Avoid buying clothes made with rayon viscose, which is made from tropical wood pulp.
  • Reduce your use of paper, reuse paper products, and recycle at home, work, and school. 
  • Purchase sustainable wood products by looking for the FSC logo.
  • Encourage legislation and support zoos, aquariums and other conservation organizations that preserve forests and animals.

Phoenix Zoo Bess holding Jiwa

Through our Conservation & Science Grants Program, we support organizations working to protect Bornean forests and create a safer home for wild orangutans and other forest animals.

We prioritize projects that actively involve local people living in and near crucial wildlife habitat to help ensure that the work done with our support is important to them and not just to us.

The relationship between zookeepers and the animals in their care is intimate, complex and dynamic.

Based on trust and respect, built over time and upon routine, this mutual understanding is crucial to providing zoo animals with proper enrichment in their lives, and necessary for keepers to be able to confidently carry out their duties. When caring for intelligent beings such as orangutans, keepers must consistently come up with stimulating new challenges. In turn, the keepers often find themselves as the ones being challenged. The specialized wall you see in the bilik provides our keepers with an opportunity to strengthen these bonds of trust, while respecting the territories and boundaries of our orangutans.

The remarkable orangutan is capable of tool use, planning, intentional deception, mirror and photograph self-recognition, bartering and humor.

They have been taught sign language and are great mimics, often adopting and modifying new behaviors as needed. They even demonstrate medical knowledge. To treat stomach upset they will ingest clay, and sometimes eat dayflowers as an anti-inflammatory just as humans do in traditional Chinese medicine. Sharing nearly 97% of their genetic code, humans and orangutans have more than a few things in common. Orangutans and humans share similar teeth and bone structures, the ability to grow beards and moustaches, and a propensity for male pattern baldness. Like humans, and unlike most other primates, they possess hairless foreheads.

Humans and orangutans are the only primates with the ability to make a closed-mouth smile, complete with dimpling of the cheeks.

Orangutans are even known to produce a form of laughter when playing or being tickled. The unique physical attributes of orangutans enable the world’s largest arboreal, or tree-dwelling, mammals to thrive in their rainforest home.