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09 August 2017, 03:43 | Darrell Baldwin
Veterinarians at Zoo Atlanta had been treating Chantek for heart disease but officials were reluctant to give a firm cause of animal's death
Born in captivity at the Yerkes Language Research Center in Atlanta, he was a great ape who had greatness thrust upon him when he was sent at a young age to live in a trailer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, with the anthropologist Lyn Miles.
This led to him becoming one of the few apes in the world who could communicate with sign language, though Zoo Atlanta notes he was timid when signing around individuals he didn't know. Although his cause of death is not yet known, the Zoo's Animal Care and Veterinary Teams had been treating Chantek with a regimen of advanced medical therapy targeted at mitigating his progressive heart disease. He returned to the Atlanta Zoo to live out his later years with other orangutans, including his friends 34-year-old female Madu and playful 10-year-old male Dumadi.
"Chantek will be deeply missed by his family here at Zoo Atlanta".
A 2014 documentary titled "The Ape Who Went to College" focused on Chantek and how he used sign language to ask for food. "He's unique, friendly and easy to communicate with anyone close to him", said Zoo Atlanta Vice-President, Hayley Murphy. He was well-known for his knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL), learned prior to his arrival at the Zoo.
Zoo Atlanta has lost a long-time member of its ape family, officials announced.
For all his talents, Chantek remained strangely shy about conversing with humans, only signing with people he knew and reverting to orangutan sounds and gestures other times. "It has been our privilege to have had him with us for 20 years". In many ways, Chantek was raised much like a human. But the official cause of death has not yet been determined. When Chantek was still a baby, she raised him as if he were her child.
A spokesperson from Zoo Atlanta shared the sadness everyone feels concerning the great ape passing. Both Bornean orangutans and Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered in the wild, and both species are experiencing dramatic population declines as a result of habitat loss, overharvesting of timber for palm oil plantations, and human encroachment.
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