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Chantek the Signing Orangutan Dies at 39

Chantek, an orangutan who was one of the first apes to learn sign language, has died in Atlanta, Georgia on August 7th. He was 39 years old.


While his cause of death is not officially known, he was being treated for progressive heart disease. An autopsy will determine the cause of death.


Chantek was born at Atlanta’s Yerkes Language Research Center. In 1997, Chantek arrived at Zoo Atlanta when he was 19 years old. He spent 9 years with researchers at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. Researchers taught him over 150 words in American Sign Language. He was able to sign all the time to communicate with his caretakers. The zoo he lived at mentioned that he was shy signing with people he didn’t know. He would use vocalizations instead.


He also knew how to clean his room and use the bathroom. A 2014 documentary film, “The Ape Who Went To College” put Chantek in the spotlight. The film showed him using sign language and even showed him directing a driver from the school to a restaurant. Zoo Atlanta’s vice president of the animal divisions stated, “Chantek will be deeply missed by his family here at Zoo Atlanta. He had such a unique and engaging personality and special ways of relating to and commencing with those who knew him best.”


Rest in peace, Chantek.



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