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Atlanta Zoo's sign language orangutan, Chantek, dies at 39
09 August 2017, 01:41 | Melissa Porter
His story was immortalised in the 2014 documentary, The Ape Who Went to College, which told how he had been taught to communicate with American Sign Language by his "foster mother" anthropologist Lyn Miles. 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.
According to the zoo, Chantek "frequently used sign language to communicate with the staff, with whom he had developed strong ties'".
Chantek's rise to worldwide fame came nine months after his birth at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Georgia, when he was transferred to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to live with Dr Miles.
Chantek the orangutan was taught by a trainer, who raised him like her own child, and was recently being treated for heart disease, the zoo said in a statement. However, the zoo said he was shy of talking to people he wasn't familiar with and instead would use more traditional ape-like ways of communicating, such as gestures and vocalisations.
He learned how to clean his room and memorize the way to a Dairy Queen restaurant.
A year ago he was put on a medical regimen because of heart disase, a leading cause of death among captive great apes. Zoo Atlanta became Chantek's permanent home in 1997.
Chantek, a Bornean/Sumatran-hybrid orangutan, has died at age 39. Chantek's case was regularly reviewed by Great Ape Heart Project subject matter experts, including human cardiologists, from around the U.S. These partnerships and the insights gained as part of the close monitoring of his heart health will enable Chantek to continue to make lasting contributions to the care and health of orangutans and other apes living in zoos throughout North America and beyond.
Chantek was among a special group of apes who knew ASL, including Koko, the gorilla, and Washoe, the chimpanzee. The two species are facing sharp drops in numbers because of habitat loss, timber cutting and human encroachment, the zoo said.
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