At first glance, the paintings could be the latest work by a member of Berlin's cutting-edge art scene. Daubes of colour reminiscent of a pre-schooler's innocent oeuvre. But the unlikely artist is in fact a resident of the Osnabrück Zoo.
Artwork by Buschi has been in demand since it went on sale in mid-November, with the 13 pieces sold so far fetching between €170 and €200 each. A further 23 parties anxiously await their own primate creations.
But they may have to be patient, as just like any respectable artist, the orangutan apparently rejects working to others' schedules, and will only paint when he wants to. “He's rather sensitive,” says Ute Magiera, coordinator for species protection at the zoo.
But she's quick to emphasise that Buschi's creative side is very much his own. “He's no performing monkey,” says Magiera.
A highly endangered species native to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutan normally have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years, but can live up to 60 in captivity. Buschi, due to celebrate his 39th birthday on December 21, was raised by staff at the zoo after failing to bond with his birth mother.
“This early care from humans left a lasting imprint and he values every piece of contact with human beings,” says Magiera.
Buschi has previously shown himself to be an ape of higher than average capability, having taken part in a study testing the intelligence of orangutans some thirty years ago. His role in the research demonstrated that his species are often more capable than other kinds of primates, such as chimpanzees, when it comes to using tools – something that Buschi's handiness with a paintbrush proves.
It is not unknown for great apes to paint, according to Joseph Call of the Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. And Buschi isn't the first artistic ape to be found in one of Germany's zoos; two years ago a collection of 22 paintings by three orangutans housed in Krefeld Zoo in North Rhine-Westphalia were sold to an anonymous collector in the okay for €32,000.
Money from the many sales of Buschi's paintings will go towards helping some other endangered animals by funding the Tapir conservation project “Tajya-Saruta” in Ecuador, which Osnabrück Zoo has been supporting since 2003.