[monkeywire] Rusty the orangutan, dead at 35

Steven Branoff sbranoff at Environcorp.com
Fri Jan 10 16:07:48 EST 2003


Popular orangutan dies 
Chuck Squatriglia, Chronicle Staff Writer
<mailto:csquatriglia at sfchronicle.com>
Friday, January 10, 2003 
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle </chronicle/info/copyright/> | Feedback
Rusty, the big shaggy orangutan who blew kisses and loved watching visitors
to the San Francisco Zoo as much as they loved watching him, has died. 
The 35-year-old primate died peacefully in his sleep sometime Wednesday
night, zoo officials said Thursday. No one knows yet just how Rusty died,
but he had suffered from kidney trouble for years, and a preliminary
necropsy suggested his liver and heart simply gave out. 
His death stunned everyone at the zoo, where Rusty was beloved for his
affectionate and gentle demeanor, because he had seemed fine earlier in the
"This was such a shock," said Associate Curator Eve Lyon. "When I checked in
on him (Wednesday), he looked pretty perky and, to me, he looked like his
old self. This is a devastating loss." 
Animal keeper Francesca O'Kane discovered Rusty early Thursday morning while
checking on the 308-pound animal and his "roommate" Lipz. A somber mood fell
over the zoo when officials announced his death. 
"It was very poignant," said zoo spokeswoman Nancy Chan. "People were pretty
Lipz, a 20-year-old female who moved in three years ago, apparently spent
the day in mourning, hiding herself from view. 
"Lipz absolutely adored Rusty," said Lisa Hamburger, Rusty's caretaker of 25
years. "They were really bonded. When I left (Wednesday) night, they were
sitting together side by side." 
Rusty, a Sumatran orangutan with long red hair and large, fleshy cheeks, was
born May 18, 1967 at the Chaffee Zoo in Fresno. He came to San Francisco in
July 1968 in a deal arranged by philanthropist Carroll Soo Hoo. 
Like all orangutans, Rusty was shy and didn't tend to move very fast, but he
possessed a sweet personality that endeared him to handlers and visitors
"He was a very contemplative spirit and incredibly gentle and soulful,"
Hamburger said. "At night he would chirp and blow kisses at me. 
"One of his favorite pastimes was to watch the public. He found them
Orangutans, the only great apes found outside Africa, are native to the
jungles of Borneo and Sumatra. Less than 9,500 are believed to exist in the
wild, making them the most endangered of apes. They dine largely on fruit,
leaves and insects in the wild. 
The animals have an average life span of 35 to 40 years. Males can top 300
pounds, while females typically weigh about half that. 
Rusty was one of many old-timers at the zoo, where there are several
chimpanzees, hippos and an African elephant in their 40s. 
Like humans, animals often suffer a host of ailments in old age. Rusty was
diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 1991, but it didn't appear to be a
problem during his last checkup in April, zoo officials said. 
A preliminary necropsy suggested Rusty's liver failed, followed by his
heart, zoo officials said. His lungs were clear, and there was no sign of
cancer or infectious diseases. Final necropsy results, based upon tests on
tissue samples, won't be available for several weeks, zoo officials said. 
No decision has been made on replacing Rusty. 
"Lipz is now alone," said zoo spokeswoman Chan. "We'll see how she does and
determine what to do next." 
E-mail Chuck Squatriglia at csquatriglia at sfchronicle.com
<mailto:csquatriglia at sfchronicle.com>. 
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle </chronicle/info/copyright/> | Feedback
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Steven Branoff, Senior Associate
ENVIRON International Corporation
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Phone: (510) 420-2540
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Cell:     (510) 388-1482
sbranoff at environcorp.com

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