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Sumatran orangutan Tia passes away at Sedgwick County Zoo at age 57

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at 1:31 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at 1:53 p.m.

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She was born somewhere in the wild when Dwight D. Eisenhower was still president and Kokomo the Chimp was taking over the “Today Show” as the host animal editor.

Tia, a Sumatran orangutan that arrived at the Sedgwick County Zoo in 1985, in time became recognized as the oldest orangutan in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoos in North America, and perhaps even the world.

She died Tuesday due to age-related health issues. Zoo officials estimated her age at 57.

“She had some heart issues last year,” said Mark Reed, executive director of the Sedgwick County Zoo. “She passed away in her sleep. She was lying on her back in her hammock looking up.”

Tia came to the United States at age 2, first living in the Milwaukee County Zoo before moving to the Henry Villas Zoo in Madison, Wis., in the late 1970s.

It was a cold winter’s day in 1985 when the zoo’s senior veterinarian, Bill Bryant, and Reed traveled to Madison to pick her up and bring her to her new home in Wichita. The move was an early Species Survival Plan recommendation for the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan, according to a news release issued Tuesday by the zoo.

On Tuesday, Reed remembered his first impressions of Tia and the trip he and Bryant took to Madison. Reed said he and Bryant borrowed a hearse from a local mortuary for Tia to ride in. She was in a cage for the journey.

“She could look up and out the front windshield of the hearse,” Reed recalled. “We slipped a blanket to her, and she wrapped herself up in that blanket and stared at us and out the window the whole trip back.”

Once at the Sedgwick County Zoo, she became the dominant female of the orangutans – despite the fact, Reed said, she had only one tooth. She was good at the powers of intimidation.

“She would chase Daisy, the other female, around the exhibit,” Reed said. “She was the boss, there was no question about it.

“Genetically, she was very important. She was of founder stock from the wild and had extremely important genes.

“For the keepers, she was an ornery lady. For the veterinary health people, she was a tough old bird.”

For the zoo’s orangutan exhibit, she was a grandmother and auntie who enjoyed playing with the little ones, Reed said. She gave birth to Panji and was grandmother to his son, Kinali.

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.

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