ZOO ATLANTA SADDENED BY LOSS OF FOUNDING MEMBER OF ORANGUTAN POPULATION
ATLANTA – August 10, 2023 – Zoo Atlanta is deeply saddened to share news of the passing of an original founding member of its great ape population: Biji the Sumatran orangutan, age 52. The Veterinary and Animal Care Teams had been treating the geriatric orangutan for advancing kidney failure, and due to her poor prognosis, made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize her on August 10, 2023.
Biji’s age was exceptional for orangutans, which are considered geriatric after the age of about 40, and is a testament to the state-of-the-art healthcare she received in her years at the Zoo – care that she herself helped to advance. Thanks to an extensive positive reinforcement training program which enabled Biji to be part of her own healthcare, she was able to participate in the voluntary blood draws which originally led the Veterinary Team to diagnose her condition nine years ago, and which have helped the teams to manage her kidney disease.
“Biji’s early diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of kidney disease greatly increased our knowledge of this condition in orangutans, and what we learned has helped other orangutans in human care throughout the country,” said Sam Rivera, DVM, Vice President of Animal Health.
“Biji was the ultimate incarnation of the intellect, resourcefulness, and adaptability of orangutans. Beneath that surface, she was a huge personality with a goofy side she only showed to those who knew her best,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “Biji has been an inspiration to decades of Zoo visitors, and it has been our privilege and honor to have served as her home for more than 30 years. She has helped all of us, and our visitors, better understand the incredible nature of these amazing apes.”
Biji arrived at Zoo Atlanta in 1988 as part of an original group of orangutans from Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Orangutans are naturally solitary animals in the wild, with individuals typically associating only for mating or briefly at locations where food resources are plentiful. Biji took “solitary” a step even further, demonstrating early and often to her care team that she did not prefer the company of other orangutans. Instead, she was allowed to pursue the independent life she preferred. This included favorite indoor personal pastimes such as weaving, and in recent years, visitors could spot her lounging in her hammock in her outdoor habitat.
As is the case with all animal deaths regardless of age or health condition, a necropsy, or the non-human equivalent of an autopsy, will be performed through the Zoo’s partnership with the University of Georgia Zoo and Exotic Animal Pathology Service in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Zoo Atlanta is home to one of North America’s largest populations of orangutans, with nine individuals representing both Sumatran and Bornean orangutans. Urgently threatened by habitat loss, largely as a result of deforestation for commercial palm oil production in their native southeast Asia, orangutans face extinction within a decade without targeted conservation efforts.
Zoo Atlanta is one of only a small number of zoos to pursue and attain membership in the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil™ (RSPO). The Zoo and many other accredited zoos are vocal advocates for encouraging the use of only sustainable palm oil, supporting only companies who use sustainably produced oil and celebrating those corporations who make the switch to sustainable, and raising public awareness of the necessity for informed shopping.