RIP Chantek, the Signing Orangutan Who Was Just Like Us

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There is no permanent good in this world. One minute, everything seems fine. The next minute, the forces of darkness steal away Chantek, the beloved, 39-year-old signing orangutan.

Zoo Atlanta Reports:

The Zoo Atlanta family is saddened to announce the passing of Chantek, a 39-year-old male orangutan, on August 7, 2017. Although his cause of death is not yet known, the Zoo’s Animal Care and Veterinary Teams had been treating Chantek with a regimen of advanced medical therapy targeted at mitigating his progressive heart disease.


I never met Chantek, but reading about him, I feel like he could have been a friend. He, too, “went to college.” He, too, was shy around strangers. He, too, could direct a driving route from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to Dairy Queen, as reported by Reuters. He, too, probably wondered why the people at Dairy Queen insist on turning your blizzard upside down before handing it to you.

Chantek, like Koko the gorilla and Washoe the chimpanzee, learned American Sign Language from his trainer, Lyn Miles. I’ll point out that there’s plenty of skepticism about how much the apes can actually communicate via ASL, and over our interpretation of the apes’ emotions, as reported by Slate. We’re not apes, and could be personifying the animals; additionally, there are only a few papers offering published evidence about signing apes’ cognition.


I correct my first sentence: There is no true Good in the world. Every Good thing comes with a caveat, an asterisk, or a critic with valid things to say. And even if there is a truly Good thing, it will probably die.

R.I.P. Chantek. You were okay.

[Zoo Atlanta via Reuters]