Chattanooga’s Sign-language speaking orangutan raised like a human dies

ATLANTA (AP) – An orangutan who communicated with researchers using sign-language has died at an Atlanta zoo. Chantek was 39.

On its website, Zoo Atlanta says Chantek died Monday. The cause of death isn’t known, but the zoo says veterinarians had been treating him for progressive heart disease.

Chantek came to the zoo in 1997 at the age of 19. He was born at Atlanta’s Yerkes Language Research Center and spent nine years living with researchers at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Researchers raised him like a human child and taught him at least 150 words in American Sign Language. He was taught other human skills such as using a bathroom and cleaning his room.

Zoo Atlanta says Chantek was given a “naturalistic” living environment with other orangutans once he arrived there.

A post-mortem exam of the ape is scheduled to be performed.

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This summer, PBS aired a documentary on Chantek, including his Chattanooga days.

Here is another full documentary including Chankek.

CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – Chanktek made amazing strides in Chattanooga.

He lived in a trailer on campus but often wandered with his handlers around UTC and rode in a car to a local Dairy Queen.

But it wasn’t all a happy story.

Chantek’s wanderlust eventually ended his time in Chattanooga.

He kept escaping his quarters and once snook up on a startled female student walking at night on campus.

That’s when administrators decided they didn’t want the liability of another escape.

He ended up back in Atlanta, living in a 5×5 cage for the next 11 years.

Chantek grew depressed. Whenever his old handlers visited, he would sign to them to take him away.

Eventually, the orangutan got more space at Zoo Atlanta.

Even in his old age, he remembered some of the sign language he learned as a youngster in Chattanooga, asking for junk food that he hadn’t had in decades.

Here is Dr. Lyn Miles talking about the Orangutan she raised at UTC.

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