Born at the Yerkes Language Research Center, Chantek was a beloved member of the Zoo’s orangutan population for 20 years, arriving at Zoo Atlanta in 1997. He was well-known for his knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL), learned prior to his arrival at the Zoo. Although he frequently used ASL to communicate with his caregivers, with whom he developed close personal bonds throughout his years at Zoo Atlanta, he was shy about signing with individuals he did not know and often chose forms of communication which are more typical of orangutans, such as vocalizations and unique hand gestures.
Chantek had a unique and engaging personality and special ways of relating to and communicating with those who knew him best. Zoo Atlanta was privileged to have him with us for 20 years and to have been given the opportunity to offer him a naturalistic environment where he could get to know and live with an orangutan family.
In addition to forming bonds with his human caregivers, Chantek also formed close relationships with other orangutans at Zoo Atlanta. The other members of his group were adult female Madu, infant Keju and juvenile males Dumadi and Remy. Chantek particularly enjoyed play with the younger males, especially Dumadi, who could often be seen with or near him in the group’s Asian Forest habitat.
At 39, Chantek was one of the oldest living male orangutans within the North American population overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Orangutan Species Survival Plan.