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Towan: an orangutan known and loved by generations

Posted by: Rebecca Whitham, Editor

Our big guy, Towan. Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news today: our sweet old fellow, Towan, has passed away. The 48-year-old orangutan—the oldest in North America born in a zoo—was feeling the aches and pains of getting older, and he passed during a medical examination that was needed to find a new treatment plan to help with respiratory issues that were not responding to medicine.

His keepers were by his side, and from the outpouring of love we saw yesterday when we first announced his pending examination, we know he was in all of your hearts as well.

Towan (right) and his sister Chinta were the first twin orangutans born in a zoo, here at Woodland Park Zoo in 1968. Photo: Robert Kelley.

This community has known and loved Towan since he was born here with twin sister Chinta back in 1968. Many of you watched him grow up and as the decades passed, he watched us too. He saw Woodland Park Zoo evolve, he saw countless kids become parents and teachers with kids of their own, and he observed what inevitably happens to each of us as we come upon him: we slow down, we stand back in awe for a moment, and then we come in closer, feeling a magnetic pull to look into his eyes where we find wisdom, connection, inspiration.

Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo.
A child marks with a handprint his pledge to protect orangutans like Towan. Photo: Kirsten Pisto/Woodland Park Zoo.

Here’s what we owe Towan: a promise to come together and fight for a future for wild orangutans that are under threat of extinction. 

Right now, you can make small but impactful changes at home to use products that are deforestation-free, taking the pressure off of tropical forests that are cut down for unsustainable agriculture. Use this palm oil guide to find deforestation-free products the next time you shop.

Orangutans need forests to survive, and though these forests are a world away, many of the products in our kitchen and bathroom cabinets are directly connected. Learn more about palm oil.
Photo: Tim Laman/Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program, a Woodland Park Zoo Partner for Wildlife.

We welcome you to share your photos and stories as we remember the big guy who will be missed by all.

How many of you have had a moment just like this with Towan? Photo: Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.


wagners said…
We have loved Towan for many years and are sadened by his passing. We will miss him.RIP.��
laine said…
I am so very sad to hear the news about Towan. I often came to the zoo, simply to spend time with Towan. I would sit with him for hours, showing him pictures, etc... He was such a gentle soulful creature, and so nurturing with his son. I will always remember that beautiful smile, and will forever hold in my heart. My condolences to his beautiful zoo family. RIP sweet angel......
Unknown said…
Will miss him, beautiful boy.
Anonymous said…
Wise Man of the forest
what have you come to show us?
And what have we come to see?

That life cannot be told,
bought and sold,
but is ever waiting to unfold
from eye to eye.

That if we sit and listen
we notice the glisten
that shines from everything.

That the simple things
are worth more than rings
and cars and houses,
for all that espouses
is worth less than

You lived among us,
did not judge us,
but ever showed us
Love, Peace
and Beauty.

Anonymous said…
With tears we grieve the loss of this magnificent animal. His dignity, warmth, and charm have been an inspiration to young and old.
It was joy and honor to interact with him.
May his sister, Chinta, and his three children- Heran, Bella, and Rusty (the last in Honolulu)- continue to enjoy good health. It is such a shame the line must end with them.
Joyce said…
Rest in peace, Towan. You leave behind many friends who mourn your passing. What more can any one of us ask for?
BigBlue56160 said…
So glad that Towan passed his genes on to another generation of precious orangutans!