Chantek was one of the strongest bridges between humans and nature. He was an intellectual ape that mastered an extensive vocabulary of 150 signs, and he was able to understand English as well. However, after 39 years of life among humans, Chantek the Orangutan succumbed to death. His name meant “lovely” or “beautiful” in Malay and was among the few primates who learned sign language.
Chantek the Orangutan Used to Live in the UTC Campus
Chantek had two dedicated teachers throughout his life, American anthropologists Lyn Miles and Ann Southcombe. The two of them integrated the male hybrid Sumatran/ Borneon orangutan in their research project with a focus on apes. Ann had previous experience with raising primates. She was the teacher of Michael, the companion to Koko the gorilla.
Therefore, Chantek enjoyed a special education. In his early age, he was treated as a human child but also practiced orangutan-related experiences. The primate spent almost nine years of his time under these special circumstances in a custom trailer on UTC campus. However, an unfortunate incident allowed him to escape the controlled area and scared a student. Therefore, the board of the university decided to transfer him back to Yerkes.
Chantek Was Still Able to Use Sign Language to Communicate with His Former Teachers
In his new home, Chantek received a 5×5 cage. The lack of space propelled him into depression and he started putting on weight. When his former teachers finally got permission to visit him, Chantek used sign language to tell them to take him home. However, he regained partial freedom when Zoo Atlanta accepted to host him in a large sanctuary with trees and hammocks.
The institution used to treat him for heart disease, yet the cause of his death remains unknown. However, this condition is not unusual among primates. The majority of orangutans are becoming geriatric after the age of 35. Therefore, Chantek was one of the oldest male orangutans in the zoos of North America.
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