Episod 151: Can You Problem-solve Like an Orangutan?

Meet the Expert:  Dr. Laurel Neme, science writer for National Geographic

Laurel NemeAs a young girl growing up outside of Chicago, Laurel Neme dreamed of helping animals. At first, she wanted to be a large animal veterinarian and talk to the animals like Dr. Dolittle. Later, she wanted to be an animal scientist like Jane Goodall, and filled notebooks with observations about her goldfish. Eventually, she decided to help animals in her own way—by telling their stories. So far, she’s written three books. The first, ANIMAL INVESTIGATORS: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species (foreword by Richard Leakey, endorsed by Jane Goodall), is a “CSI for animals” about wildlife crime and forensics and the scientist heroes working to stop smugglers. She’s also has written two picture books for kids: ORANGUTAN HOUDINI, a true story about an orangutan who outsmarts his zookeeper, and THE ELEPHANT’S NEW SHOE, a true story about the rescue of a baby elephant who needs an artificial foot.

She’s also written over 70 articles for National Geographic and dozens more for environmental news site Mongabay.com and other outlets. In 2022, she was nominated by National Geographic for a Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting, along with her colleague Jeffrey Barbee, for their series of articles about oil exploration in the Okavango watershed in Namibia and Botswana.

Laurel has a PhD from Princeton University and a Master’s in public policy from the University of Michigan, where her dad had marched in the Michigan marching band. Could that explain the special place in her heart for tigers and wolverines?!? She lives in Vermont with family and super smart German shepherd, who loves to do laundry. Learn more at www.LaurelNeme.com


An orangutan

An orangutan

como park zoosaint paul, minnesota


Orangutan and its baby

Dua individu Orangutan Sumatera bercengkrama di Taman Nasional Gunung Leuser, Kabupaten Langkat, Provinsi Sumatera Utara sekitar November 2015




Challenge: Build your own night nest, just like an orangutan does. Think about what materials you will use, where it will fit in your “tree” and things you can add to make it comfortable. 

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Orangutan Houdini book


Highlighted Book for this episode! 

Orangutan Houdini by Laurel Neme (Author), Kathie Kelleher (Illustrator)

This is the true story of Fu Manchu, an adult male orangutan, who relishes outsmarting his friend, zookeeper Jerry Stones. He does just that when he escapes his enclosure at will and spends sunny days with the elephants in another part of the zoo. At first Jerry believes his staff’s carelessness allowed the crafty ape to get out. But when that assumption proves wrong, he launches an all-out surveillance mission to discover how Fu manages his getaways. Jerry soon discovers that Fu can open the locked door, but can’t figure out how he does it. The zookeeper removes every twig and stick that could be used as a lock pick, but Fu continues to escape. Eventually, Fu reveals to Jerry how he did it, and is rewarded with honorary membership in the American Association of Locksmiths.


Book List:

Curious About Orangutans by Gina Shaw

Face to Face With Orangutans (Face to Face with Animals) by Tim Laman and Cheryl Knott

Peculiar Primates: Fun Facts About These Curious Creatures by Debra Kempf Shumaker (Author), Claire Powell (Illustrator)


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