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Another zoo farewell: Sumatran orangutan J.T. died


Jantan, or JT, a Sumatran orangutan who lived at Zoo Atlanta since 1991, died yesterday. Photo by Zoo Atlanta

After last week’s sad good-bye to panda cub Mei Lan as she moved to China, there’s another farewell at Zoo Atlanta.

Sumatran orangutan J.T., a 20-year-old with long-term respiratory illness, died Monday evening.

Here’s the full press release sent out by the zoo:

Officials at Zoo Atlanta announced today that Jantan (J.T.), a 20-year-old male Sumatran orangutan, passed away early yesterday evening. The Animal Management and Veterinary Teams had been actively treating the great ape for health complications caused by a long-term respiratory illness.

“The Zoo Atlanta family is deeply saddened by the loss of J.T., both as an individual and as an ambassador for a critically endangered species,” said Dr. Dwight Lawson, Senior Vice President of Collections, Education and Conservation. “Our animal management and veterinary teams demonstrated exceptional commitment and diligence to ensuring that he had the best possible treatment over the course of his long illness.”

In 1999, J.T. began exhibiting early symptoms of chronic infection of his air sacs, ultimately leading to chronic respiratory infections, which are known to be a significant cause of mortality in orangutans. Despite 10 years of aggressive and proactive medical therapies, including two surgeries and consultation with dedicated colleagues throughout the U.S., J.T. had developed severe respiratory disease. Zoo Atlanta is particularly grateful to Dr. David Shaz, Assistant Professor, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Emory Crawford Long Hospital, and Dr. Allan Pickens, Thoracic Surgeon, Emory Crawford Long Medical Tower Thoracic Surgery, both of whom joined the Zoo’s Veterinary Team in attempting to resuscitate J.T. following his sharp and sudden decline on February 8.

Born April 4, 1989, at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, J.T. arrived at Zoo Atlanta with his mother in 1991.  He had spent the last several years in the company of his great-aunt, 39-year-old Biji, with whom he enjoyed a close personal bond. J.T. is survived by one offspring, male Bernas, born July 27, 2002, at Zoo Atlanta. Zoo Atlanta houses the nation’s largest zoological collection of orangutans, now with nine individuals. The Zoo’s Director of Animal Programs, Lori Perkins, chairs the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Orangutan Species Survival Plan.

A necropsy will be performed at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center. Necropsies are performed following all animal deaths at Zoo Atlanta, regardless of the individual’s age.
Native to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, Sumatran orangutans are among the Zoo’s most critically endangered primates. The species is threatened by habitat loss, predominantly because of clear-cutting of forests for palm oil production, and risks extinction within 10 years without targeted conservation efforts. The Orangutan Species Survival Plan seeks to maintain a self-sustaining, genetically diverse population within North American zoos.

Of course, there are still more of J.T.’s pals at the zoo. They’re great fun to watch, and he will be missed.

Please feel free to post your memories of J.T. in the comments!

Want to go? Zoo Atlanta. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. $13.99-$18.99, free for kids younger than 2. 800 Cherokee Ave. inside Grant Park, Atlanta. 404-624-9453,

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2 comments Add your comment

Allen Nyhuis

February 15th, 2010
12:46 am

This is truly too bad. The orangutans in Zoo Atlanta have always been great to watch.

Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor of America’s Best Zoos


February 9th, 2010
11:41 pm