Chantek, the first orangutan who is good at sign language, able to clean rooms and memorize the directions to fast food restaurants, has reportedly died at age 39.
According to the Atlanta Zoo, Chantek, a male orangutan taught by a trainee who cares for him like a child, whose health is thought to be deteriorating due to heart disease.
As reported by Reuters on August 8, 2017, Chantek’s death on Monday has left deep grief for many, especially the Atlanta zoo.
“We at the zoo will miss him. He’s unique, friendly and easy to communicate with anyone close to him,” said Zoo Atlanta Vice-President, Hayley Murphy.
Chantek is the oldest orangutan in the northern zoos of America. He was born at the Yerkes Research Center in Atlanta and was taken care of by anthropologist Lyn Miles at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga for nine years.
According to the documentary Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 2014, Chantek with Miles, the native orangutan of Indonesia was taught using a variety of equipment and memorized the path from the university to Dairy Queen.
Chantek is one of a handful of primates, other than Koko and Washoe, who can communicate using American sign language.
He was transferred to the Atlanta Zoo in 1997 and often used sign language to communicate with the guard. But she was ashamed to communicate with people she did not know.
The Atlanta Zoo began treatment in 2016 to decrease the symptoms of Chantek’s heart disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among large apes, such as orangutans in zoos.
Chantek was given low-sodium food, and he was the first surviving orangutan to undergo a voluntary echocardiogram to examine his electric heart rhythm.
Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are listed as endangered species in the wild. Both species face sharp drops due to loss of habitat, deforestation and human encroachment.