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Heartfelt plea brings great ape

6 February 07 15:27 GMT

A mate has been found for a 16-year-old orang-utan in Devon following a lonely hearts plea sent to animal parks around the world.

The advertisement by Paignton Zoo called for a "big, hairy, ginger male with terrific cheek pads".

The zoo said a red-blooded suitor was needed for Chinta, who is of prime breeding age to start a family.

Zoo officials said they were confident a successful candidate had now been found at a zoo in Germany.

Spokesman Phil Knowling said conservation was the very serious reason behind the zoo's "light-hearted" advertisement.

"The orang-utan is a species on the edge of extinction - they could be extinct in the wild in our lifetime and zoos will be the final refuge," he told BBC News.

"It's important to get the right male who is genetically strong and not related to our female.

"What we're really talking about is the survival of the species."

The prospective mate is 18-year-old Nieas, who is currently living at Duisburg Zoo in Germany.

Chinta is described as a thoughtful and methodical orang-utan, whose favourite foods include fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, insects and eggs.

Mr Knowling said: "Hopefully Chinta's wait could be over in a few weeks.

"She's a great catch and I think Nieas will be in for a good time."

The main threats to wild orang-utans include hunting, habitat destruction and the pet trade.

The species has global legal protection and is included in the breeding programme of the European Endangered Species Programme.

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