Chantek, the United States orangutan who used sign language, dies aged 39


Zoo Atlanta mourns the death of 39-year-old orangutan, Chantek

Chantek lived with a female orangutan, Madu, 34, a male orangutan named Dumadi who is 10, six-year-old Remy and two-year-old Keju, a female orangutan. 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.

The cause of Chantek's death is not known, but zoo vets had been treating him for progressive heart disease.

Chantek, the first orangutan who is good at sign language, able to clean rooms and memorize the directions to fast food restaurants, has reportedly died at age 39.

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. According to a Zoo Atlanta press release, Chantek had been placed on a low-sodium diet and was regularly monitored with cardiac ultrasounds, blood pressure readings and blood work. According to a 1997 CNN article, Miles woke up with Chantek at 4 A.M. for feedings, toilet trained him, and taught him how to communicate using sign language.

From the time he was about nine months old anthropologists taught him American Sign Language (ASL) as part of a language research project.

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Miles founded the Chantek Foundation to support cultural research with Chantek, to understand the nature of orangutan communicative ability and intelligence, to develop and foster the growth of other great apes and to promote conservation while building a bridge between the species.

He was transferred to Zoo Atlanta in 1997.

"He was shy about signing with individuals he did not know and often chose forms of communication which are more typical of orangutans, such as vocalisations and unique hand gestures".

A year ago he was put on a medical regimen because of heart disase, a leading cause of death among captive great apes.

"It has been our privilege to have had him with us for 20 years and to have been given the opportunity to offer him a naturalistic environment where he could get to know and live with his orangutan family". "He's unique, friendly and easy to communicate with anyone close to him", said Zoo Atlanta Vice-President, Hayley Murphy.

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