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Farewell Chinta: Our Beloved, Eldest Orangutan


Posted by Gigi Allianic, Communications

Our sweetest Chinta. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Our sweet Chinta passed away peacefully this morning, just one day shy of her 52nd birthday. She was the oldest animal currently living at Woodland Park Zoo and one of the oldest orangutans in North America. We will miss her presence immensely. 

The red-haired beauty was the last remaining animal born at Woodland Park Zoo in the 1960s who had lived at the zoo her entire lifetime. Chinta and her late twin brother Towan were born here in February 1968. Towan passed away in 2016.

Chinta and Towan, twin orangutans born at Woodland Park Zoo in 1968.
Worldwide, the twin orangutans gained instant celebrity status as the first-known twin orangutans born in a zoo. Photos of the pair as infants appeared around the globe, including in “Life” magazine. While other twins have since been born, twin orangutan births are a rare occurrence.

Chinta, who was easily recognizable by ragged bangs over her eyebrows, was a geriatric orangutan and in her sunset years. The median life expectancy for orangutans is 28 years although orangutans in zoos are living into their 50s because of the evolving field of zoo medicine, which includes geriatric care.

As a standard procedure, our animal health team has performed a necropsy (an animal autopsy) and the cause of death will be pending final pathology tests in several weeks.

Chinta means love in Indonesian. Like a superstar, she had adoring fans. “Chinta’s passing is a deep, deep loss for our zoo family, especially for her keepers. She was a beautiful ginger and a doting auntie to her nephew, Heran,” says Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo.

Thousands of orangutan enthusiasts and the local community joined the zoo at parties thrown for Chinta and Towan’s 30th and 40th birthdays, and Chinta’s 50th.

Chinta celebrating her birthday in 2018. Photo by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.
“For five decades, people loved Chinta. She was an extraordinary individual. Orangutans are struggling in the wild and Chinta became a true ambassador for her species. She and her fellow orangutans have inspired individuals to support different orangutan conservation efforts and make lifestyle changes, such as converting to purchasing items with sustainable palm oil,” adds Ramirez.

Over her lifetime, Chinta played a role in zoo-based research projects that have contributed to increased knowledge of orangutan reproductive biology and a growing commitment among zoos to support orangutan field conservation. In 1993, Chinta underwent the first-ever embryo transfer for an orangutan; donors were from a female and male orangutan that lived at the zoo temporarily for breeding. While it didn’t result in a pregnancy, the procedure helped make remarkable headway for this reproductive technique on orangutans. And, for many years, Chinta had been a part of a long-term study on ovarian function in orangutans conducted by Dr. Cheryl Knott, an orangutan scientist and a long-time conservation partner of Woodland Park Zoo.

When the zoo introduced a new male orangutan, Godek, in 2017, Chinta and he immediately bonded and became very close companions. Chinta assumed the role of surrogate grandmother and teacher to this young orangutan, now 11. “However, because of his youth, Godek was a little too rambunctious for Chinta at her age. To provide the best welfare for her, we more recently had her resting comfortably in an off-exhibit bedroom where the keepers could closely monitor her food and water intake. She was showered with lots of TLC from her keepers and even watched TV, which she really enjoyed,” says Ramirez.

Chinta with Godek in 2020. Photo by Carolyn Sellars/Woodland Park Zoo.
In the last year, the elderly orangutan had been slowing down some and appeared to tire more easily. “Chinta had experienced intermittent bouts of bladder infections, and had underlying kidney insufficiency, so we kept a close watch on her urinary health as well as more general health indicators,” says Dr. Tim Storms, an associate veterinarian at Woodland Park Zoo.

Like many animals at Woodland Park Zoo, Chinta was well trained in a variety of behaviors that allowed her to actively participate in her own day-to-day care, including proactive geriatric care. “Thanks to the diligent training and attentive care by the orangutan keepers, her behaviors included allowing her teeth to be brushed, sitting still for stethoscope monitoring, providing urine samples, presenting her forehead for temporal thermometer readings, and allowing access to parts of her body for visual and physical examinations,” explains Ramirez.

In order to provide comprehensive care, orangutan keepers and veterinary staff were focused on training Chinta for voluntary blood draws and possibly ultrasound. According to Storms, “since anesthesia carries additional risk for any geriatric patient, we tried collecting as much health data as we could without sedation.”

In addition to Chinta, two female orangutans currently live at the zoo: 48-year-old Melati and 38-year-old Belawan, daughter of Towan and Melati.

The two male orangutans at the zoo, who share the same birthday as Chinta are: Heran, son of Towan and Melati, turning 31; and Godek, turning 11.

Chinta taking in the sunshine in 2018. Photo by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.
Orangutans are a critically endangered species. Chinta was an amazing ambassador for her species, inspiring millions of zoo guests to take action for wildlife. Human overpopulation, logging, agriculture, conversion of forests to unsustainable monocultures, and other human activities are rapidly destroying forest environments required by orangutans for survival. 

To help us celebrate Chinta, here are a few things you can do in her memory:
  • Share your memories of Chinta on our social media channels, our animal keepers and staff would love to hear your stories and see any photos or video you have of our beloved Chinta.
  • Visit https://www.zoo.org/orangutans to learn more about saving orangutans.
  • Consider adopting an orangutan ZooParent. Your gift helps support conservation programs in the Pacific Northwest and around the world.
  • Our forest-friendly candy guide features companies that are committed to sourcing certified, sustainable palm oil: www.zoo.org/palmoil.


Comments

  1. Was she the one that used to interact with the lady with the playdough?

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  2. I volunteered at WPZ in the late 80's and early 90's and had the pleasure of working with the Orangutan family. I also worked with Helen, the keeper at the time. I have so many fabulous memories of Chinta and Towan, and little Heran. This was before they moved to their new, at the time, beautiful enclosure. I had so much fun interacting with them, preparing their food and treats, and placing enrichment as best we could.
    I remember one day Chinta had a cold, and Helen warned me, but I caught it anyway. It was the worst cold I had my entire life. Chinta was such a good girl, and loved getting treats.
    I miss those days madly. RIP Sweet Chinta, you were so loved. XO, Michelle

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  3. RIP Chinta. Orangutan's are my favorite animal at the zoo. It's been a long time. I don't know if any of the drawings are Chinta But a couple of time my sister would sit and draw the orangutans. I loved watching them. They would watch her draw them and pose for her. Sometimes a second orangutan would come over and see what was happening. He/she would "push"/"pull" the one being drawn and pose for her.

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  4. Rest in peace beautiful Chinta. <3

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  5. He brought joy to so many. He will truly be missed.

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