United States orangutan Chantek, 'the ape who went to college,' dies at 39

Chantek one of the oldest male orangutans in North American zoos died on Monday at age 39 Zoo Atlanta said in a statement. The ape was being treated for heart disease before his death

Chantek, a male orangutan who lived at a zoo in Atlanta, was one of the first apes to successfully learn American Sign Language.

After his heart condition was discovered, the Great Ape Heart Project regularly monitored his condition. Zoo Atlanta announced in 2016 that animal care teams had begun a medical regimen to treat Chantek's symptoms of heart disease and even underwent a voluntary echocardiogram. But Chantek was getting on in years; the press release states that orangutans are considered geriatric after the age of 35.

The Zoo Atlanta explains that Chantek had a "very unconventional upbringing", as he was an ape who was reared by humans in a human setting. A necropsy will determine the cause of death.

He eventually learned hundreds of words and, according to a TEDx Chattanooga presentation from Miles, invented his own gestures for "annoyed", "scatter", "eye drink" (contact lens solution) and "tomato toothpaste" (ketchup).

Chantek, the orangutan, was the star of a 2014 documentary called "The Ape Who Went to College" and was a pretty big deal in the ape world.

Miles shared an example of his communication abilities with the BBC: "The last time I saw him not too long ago he asked me for meat cheese bread [a cheeseburger] and for me to get the auto and take him home". In a statement on Monday, Murphy said it has been a privilege to have Chantek with them for the last 20 years and to give the orangutan a natural environment in which to live and mix with his orangutan family after having been alone in the research center.

In 1997, he was transferred to Zoo Atlanta, which boasts spacious primate habitats and the country's largest population of zoological orangutans.

Chantek is one of a handful of primates, other than Koko and Washoe, who can communicate using American sign language. Chantek's remains are to be cremated and will be returned to the zoo. According to experts, Sumatran orangutans will likely be extinct within the next 10 years unless conservation efforts continue.



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