In January 2022, late night host Stephen Colbert brought widespread attention to a viral clip that supposedly showed an orangutan driving a golf cart. The original video, which has been online since at least September 2021, appears below:
This is a real video of an orangutan driving a golf cart.
This video was taken in Dubai at the menagerie, a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition, of Sheikha Fatima Rashed Al Maktoum, the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.
The orangutan in this video is named Rambo. While we haven't been able to find many specifics about Rambo (such as her age or how she ended up in this zoo), we have found several other videos of Rambo and other animals at Sheikha Fatima's zoo. In 2019, for example, German entrepreneur Saygin Yalcin posted a video of his visit to this private zoo. After bottle feeding some lions who are leashed to the ground, Yalcin's video shows a group of orangutans dressed in human clothing. At around the 5-minute mark, Rambo appears on screen, and at about the 6-minute mark, you can see another video of the orangutan driving a golf cart:
On Anamalia, a YouTube channel run by Sheikha Fatima to showcase the "incredible wildlife homed in her beachside sanctuary," there are several additional videos of Rambo. In one video, it is explained that Rambo has been driving since she was young and that she has graduated from smaller toy vehicles up to golf carts.
In one video, the narrator (speaking from the point of view of Rambo) says:
"Growing up, I've had many different hobbies. One of my favorite pastimes is driving. I will admit that when I was young I wasn't always that safe. And it did take me a bit of time to get the hang of it. But I have improved a lot. And now love cruising all around my place in all types of vehicles. In the morning, me and my friend Blue love to take a spin in my golf cart, checking that all the animals are safe and sound."
Here's a video of Rambo the orangutan driving various vehicles:
While the video of this orangutan driving a golf cart went viral in large part because of its "cuteness," the practices at this private zoo have received some criticism. In addition to the general problems with the exotic pet trade, which may include animals being illegally bred or trafficked, PETA criticized this zoo's practice of chaining lions to the ground so that they can be bottle fed by human visitors:
“Putting lions on leashes and orangutans in clothing promotes the idea that wild animals are here for humans to use for amusement and to do with as they please, rather than to be left in peace."
Fatima, however, says that she has had a passion for animals since she was a child and that she has a personal relationship with all of the animals in her zoo. Sheikha Fatima spoke about her animals with Middle East Architectural Digest in 2019:
On the first day of the shoot, the team enjoyed the company of eight white and brown tigers that rejoiced, unleashed on the sea shore as the sun rose behind the neighbouring Burj Al Arab. Were we afraid of being attacked? Did the wild cats keep their sharp teeth and claws? Are they sedated? Is it ethically correct to confine these magnificent animals to the walls of the palace?
In order to properly answer these questions, it is important to remember the true passion that, historically, the Arab people nurture for falcons, eagles, peacocks, camels and horses. And the ruling Al Maktoum family is setting the example. “I have been interested in animal welfare from a very young age”, confides Sheikha Fatima. “My brothers and sisters are also animal lovers and we have been looking after animals since childhood.”
“I know every single animal by name and character. I’m very involved in their training and caring, and I’ve spent hours in close contact with them.”
Though the characters of this exotic tale seem to be destined to live happily ever after, recent UAE laws that penalise the ownership of all types of wild dangerous animals bring us back to reality. Exceptions are made for zoos, wildlife parks and breeding and research centres such as this Royal palace that actively contributes to the conservation of endangered species.
“I don’t encourage people to do the same in their homes since, if they don´t possess the proper knowledge, it can be dangerous for the individual and animal”, concludes Her Highness, who has, for years, been donating felines to sanctuaries such as the Al Ain Wildlife Park or the Zoobic Safari in the Philippines. “I have achieved a very high standard of care due to my experience and the knowledge of the experts that work with me. We are able to provide the best training and care for each animal. But, above all, our motivation resides in our love for these beautiful and majestic creatures.”