The ‘world’s oldest’ orangutan has died at 61

Oregon Zoo’s Inji, a Sumatran orangutan who was believed to be the oldest in the world, has died at the age of 61, according to local news reports.

Inji had lived at the Oregon Zoo in Portland for nearly her entire life, before her health took a turn recently — she outlived most wild orangutans by two decades. Prior to her passing, zookeepers found that Inji would “rarely [leave] her nest box,” had little appetite and pain management did not seem to be helping. Based on her apparently intractable symptoms, veterinary staff “made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize” the elder orangutan before her suffering was prolonged.

“In loving memory of Inji,” the Oregon Zoo tweeted Jan. 9, alongside a compilation video of Inji swinging with playmates and interacting with guests and zoo workers. “At 61, she was the world’s oldest known orangutan, and one of the sweetest.”

In Saturday’s press release on their website, zoo manager Bob Lee said, “We knew she couldn’t live forever, but this really hurts, and I know many visitors are grieving along with us.”

“Inji’s ability to connect with people was incredible. She inspired generations,” said Lee, who added that she was “active and inquisitive through her golden years.”

“She seemed to study humans and enjoy watching them, especially children,” he said.

Followers shared some of their cherished memories of the beloved primate.

“Our daughter’s favorite since her first visit,” tweeted @aCrosbyJohnson in response. “They hung out like this for awhile,” she wrote, adding a photograph of her infant daughter bonding with Inji through the transparent enclosure.

“My son around 5 years old (1981) walked up to the glass of the orangutan enclosure,” wrote @KariDen. “Inji climbed down and sat on the other side of the glass. My son made ‘faces’ that she imitated. Entertained the surrounding audience for at least 20 minutes.”

Inji lived 20 years more than the average wild orangutan, likely owed to a life spent in the safe confines of captivity. She was presumed to be just a year old when she first arrived at the zoo on Jan. 30, 1961, having been rescued from the then-legal wild animal trade.

“We’re thankful that we were able to give Inji a good home, but it’s heartbreaking to think about the circumstances that brought her here,” said Asaba Mukobi, senior primate keeper at the zoo. “Even though the wild animal trade is illegal now, it still exists. It is considered a major threat to orangutans’ survival, along with human encroachment and habitat loss from palm oil plantations. Orangutans are at the brink of extinction — especially in Sumatra, where Inji came from.”

Some 70,800 orangutans remain — of the three species about 15,000 of them are Sumatran, and approximately 55,000 are Bornean and fewer than 800 Tapanuli.

Mukobi also pointed out that their name was derived from the Malay word orang, meaning “man,” and hutan, which describes wildness or jungle — due to their close resemblance to humans.

“Building on that connection, we’re trying to create awareness about what’s happening to orangutans in their native lands and let people know how they can help,” Mukobi said.

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