After nearly 52 years living at Woodland Park Zoo, Chinta the orangutan died Tuesday morning. She was the zoo’s oldest animal.
“Chinta’s passing is a deep, deep loss for our zoo family, especially for her keepers,” mammal curator Martin Ramirez said in a news release. “She was a beautiful ginger and a doting auntie to her nephew, Heran.”
In 1968, Chinta and her twin brother, Towan, were the first twin orangutans born in a zoo and became instant celebrities. Chinta weighed just 1 pound, 14 ounces at birth, and the zoo kept the twins in an incubator improvised from a snake cage.
The Seattle Times and radio station KVI-AM held a contest to name them, won by 6-year-old Eric Sano. Chinta means “love” in Indonesian and Towan means “big boss.”
The zoo didn’t have a veterinary staff in 1968, so physicians and nurses trained to work with premature human infants helped care for the twins.
Then-zoo director Frank Vincenzi asked local resident Marian Davenport to help care for the baby orangutans because she’d already raised six human babies, she told The Seattle Times in 2008. She bottle-fed the twins human baby formula alongside a team of other volunteers. The diaper changing is “exactly the same,” one volunteer mother told The Seattle Times in 1968.
Chinta was the first orangutan to undergo an embryo transfer procedure in 1993, part of a research project to learn more about orangutan reproductive biology. She was also part of a long-term study on ovarian function in orangutans.
The zoo threw the twins a public celebration in 2008 for their 40th birthdays. Towan and Chinta received blankets and capped PVC pipes with food inside.
Towan, an accomplished artist whose paintings sold for more than $1,000, died in 2016 at 48. The median life expectancy for orangutans is 28 years, the zoo said, although orangutans in zoos are living into their 50s.
As Chinta grew older, she retired to an off-exhibit bedroom for closer monitoring by zoo staff. She’d experienced bladder infections and kidney issues, but was accustomed to checkups and care from orangutan keepers.
Orangutans are critically endangered, and human overpopulation and other activities are rapidly destroying orangutans’ forest habitats. The zoo has four remaining orangutans: 48-year-old Melati, 38-year-old Belawan, 31-year-old Heran and 11-year-old Godek.
The zoo’s oldest animal is now Amanda, a 50-year-old western lowland gorilla who has lived at Woodland Park Zoo since 1994.