Orangutan Finds Calling as Primate Painter

His last name is Valentino, but Rudi, an orangutan at the Houston Zoo, is being compared to Van Gogh for his impressive painting skills.

Crowds have been drawn to the 36-year-old - whose favorite color is pink, according to zoo officials - as he carefully paints masterpieces on everything from canvas to the walls of his home.

He paints anything he wants to paint, we have no control over what he paints," his keeper Tammy Buhrmester said." He'll paint the glass window, and he'll paint the rocks or the climbing structure in the exhibit. When the paint runs out, he'll fill them with water to make water colors and paint the walls of the area."

Rudi's love of painting started 10 years ago when he used chalks and his fingers to paint with watercolors. Later, his style evolved to painting with bamboo shoots and eventually with non toxic acrylic paint and brushes on canvases.

"Yesterday he did one (a painting) and [we] named it 'Phytoplankton' and it was blue with pink swirls in it, it was actually really pretty," Buhrmester said. "Sometimes we look at them and we can see so many different objects in them, like birds or people."

Rudi's work will soon be auctioned off at the Houston Zoo on April 10 th along with works created by other Asian animals at the zoo, including elephants, clouded leopards, and babirusa pigs. All proceeds will go toward helping not only wild orangutans, but also other Asian animals.

"Rudi is one of our best painters and he will have a number of pieces in the auction," said Lucy Sheppard, who is coordinating the auction, "and a local human artist is also going to do a portrait of him, so that'll be really fun."