Hello again from Caitlin on the Orangutan Team! It has been an emotional month for us orangutan caretakers, as we recently said goodbye to our oldest female orangutan, Biji. Biji was famously known at Zoo Atlanta as being one of the founding members of our orangutan population. She lived to be 52 years old and was the third oldest Sumatran female orangutan in the Species Survival Plan® (SSP) population. In 2014 she was diagnosed with kidney disease, and lived nine prosperous years since – the longest known time any orangutan has lived with kidney disease.
Our successful management of the disease for those nine years is the result of many things. Most notably, Biji herself was responsible for the success of her own healthcare, by allowing the Orangutan Care Team and Veterinary Team to collect routine samples through both voluntary urine collection and voluntary blood draw sessions. Without the trusting relationships our teams built with Biji, we wouldn’t have been able to train with her to collect the samples needed for our Veterinary Team to monitor the values to which kidney disease progresses. Keepers also vastly slowed down the progression of the disease through keeping her well hydrated, and in her final years, Biji was very particular about what her favorite drinks were. As it turns out, diluted apple juice was the winner.
We will remember Biji for her bright personality. She loved attention and frequently loved to stand on her head and be silly with keepers behind the scenes. Some of her other favorite hobbies included weaving with blankets or tulle, playing in bubble bath, and flipping through magazines as she loved to look at all the colorful pictures in them. She also loved to relax and watch the happenings of the Zoo from her hammock out on Habitat 3.
As keepers, we have the amazing opportunity to build close personal relationships with individuals like Biji, and interacting with them fills our days with so much joy. It is without a doubt the hardest part of our job having to say goodbye to such incredible individuals, especially when they have larger-than-life personalities like our Biji. Speaking on behalf of the Orangutan Care Team, losing Biji was like losing a piece of our hearts. Our space feels emptier without her, but she’ll live forever in the cheerful memories we shared with her, and in the hearts of Zoo guests who visited her during her many years as a member of this population.
Keeper I, Primates