Decorate with animal art and support conservation at the same time

Guest post by Evee

This painting was done by Eli, a male orangutan residing at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I work as a zoo keeper. We do paintings with all our orangutans, and many other animals at the zoo.

The paint is non-toxic tempera, and the animals use everything from brushes to feet to lips and tails to paint.

Painting with the animals is first and foremost for their own benefit. It’s a form of behavioral enrichment; the process of making the lives of zoo animals more dynamic and complicated. Dextrous animals like primates and elephants can be taught, through positive training, to hold brushes or chalk and scribble on the paper. Eli’s daughter Acara created a unique piece by throwing paint-covered tennis balls at a canvas. Other animals, like penguins, simply walk through paint and onto paper.

The added bonus of all this artistic expression is the end product; paintings that can be sold to the public.

The money from these paintings is often donated to conservation organizations that help animals in the wild. Penguin paintings help wild penguins, rhino paintings help wild rhinos… the list of species helped by this practice is extensive. Our Orange-Utahn Art Show has raised over $20,000 in the last two years for orangutan conservation — money that is sorely needed as orangutan habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate due to palm oil plantations.

How can you get your hands on one of these pieces of art? Check with your local zoo, aviary, or aquarium. Animals from sea lions to snakes may be churning out artwork, and zoos usually advertise the pieces on their website or in the gift shop. Ask about where the money goes, and learn more about the organizations helping wildlife.

More info on zoos and animal artwork:

Comments on Decorate with animal art and support conservation at the same time

    • Ashley, see if your local zoo accepts volunteers! Our zoo loves adult “zoo-aides” that come in one morning a week to help us take care of the animals!

  1. This is really cool! I’d read about how some zoos and centers had trained animals to paint/create in other media, but I don’t think I’d ever read about them then selling the work to support either the institution or conservation programs.

    I would TOTALLY buy such work–how cool would it be to tell your visitors “oh, yeah, that painting is by an orangutan.” Plus, with some animals that are taught to more consciously interact with the art, I would especially find their art fascinating–maybe more of an insight into their mental processes could be gained by study of their work. (I studied art history, if that shows at all)

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