‘He’s lived here almost his entire life’ Old orangutan dies at US zoo

North America's oldest male orangutan dies at zoo
Rudi Valentino, a male orangutan, died on December 19 at age 45, at Houston Zoo, Texas, United States, December 16, 2022, credit: Reuters/Evan Garcia

The 45-year-old orangutan Rudi Valentino died at Houston Zoo in the United States shortly after he was named the oldest male orangutan in North America. The zoo said he had advanced heart disease.

“Rudi will be deeply missed by all who knew him, and his memory will live on through the lives he touched and the important work he inspired. He will always be remembered as a beloved member of the Houston Zoo family,” the zoo said in a statement.

Rudi was born on December 8, 1977, at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas. He was moved to Houston Zoo in 1978 and celebrated his 45th birthday last month. “He’s lived here almost his entire life,” said Cheka Heihn, a primate zookeeper at the Houston Zoo. The zoo is home to another old orangutan, a 50-year-old female named Cheyenne, and three other orangutans.

Despite taking medication for advanced heart disease, Rudi appeared to be acting normally on the day he died, Houston Zoo spokesperson Jessica Reyes said. He even spent some time outside. Rudi was found unresponsive at closing time. “He just went off to sleep, and then that’s it.”

Rudi lived in his enclosure with his companion, the 42-year-old female orangutan Kelly. “Kelly we are keeping a close eye on,” Reyes added. “Just to see any signs of stress or grief.”

Orangutans are native to the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia. Their populations have declined significantly due to deforestation, poaching, and the illegal pet trade.

Orangutans are critically endangered species: fewer than 800 Tapanuli orangutans are left in the wild, 104,700 Bornean orangutans, and around 14,000 Sumatran orangutans

Orangutans are known for their intelligence and problem-solving abilities and are arboreal, meaning they spend much of their time in trees. They have longer arms than legs to support their body weight while moving through the trees. 

While great apes, including orangutans, can live well into their 50s, male orangutans typically do not live as long as females. Rudi’s age was considered a milestone. 

Keepers at the Houston Zoo do not go inside enclosures with orangutans due to their strength, which is said to be equivalent to that of eight to 10 men. All interaction with the orangutans at the zoo is done through protected contact. 


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