Phoenix Zoo Staff And Family Mourn Loss Of Kasih The Orangutan

Published: Tuesday, October 3, 2017 - 3:25pm
Updated: Friday, October 6, 2017 - 2:16pm
(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Zoo)
Kasih the orangutan was born on January 27, 2006 at the Phoenix Zoo.
(Photo courtesy of Phoenix Zoo)
Kasih playing with her younger brother, Jiwa.

At a time when only 50,000 Bornean orangutans still exist in the wild, Kasih's birth 11 years ago at the Phoenix Zoo was considered a huge success.

So, when zookeeper Jessica Peterschick noticed Kasih wasn't feeling well last week, vets began running tests until an MRI found what appears to have been a massive and rapidly growing brain tumor.

Pathology reports are still out, but Peterschick says Kasih's symptoms went from feeling poorly a week earlier to losing mobility on one side of her body. "It just went really, really fast, and it was too much and her body let go," she said.

Charles Darwin once marveled how the primates intelligence mirrored humans. Having spent the past five years with Kasih, Peterschick said it was true with her.

"She is incredibly intelligent like her mother, with soulful eyes and very playful like her father." Peterschick found herself struggling to describe Kasih in the past.

When given problem solving toys, Peterschick said Kasih was quick: "She was always thinking. If given enough time and the right tools, she could probably figure out just about anything."

At the time she passed, Kasih was living mostly in a separate exhibit from her parents and three-year-old younger brother. But, Peterschick said they showed their grief in very human ways when the zoo's team carefully took the family aside to see that she had passed.

"We felt it was in the best interest for them to see her and to grieve and to process it," Peterschick said.

But, it's her roommate and future partner, Daniel, Peterschick said zookeepers are most worried about right now. After all, he was expected to be her future mate, and "has been housed with her and has basically been with her almost non-stop for the last few years," Peterschick said.

As an 11-year-old unrelated male orangutan, he can't share space with Kasih's father.

"He is our priority," Peterschick said. "We are giving him all the enrichment and training and play to try and fill the void that Kasih gave him on a day to day basis."

It is not a simple process pairing Daniel or any orangutan. The Phoenix Zoo defers breeding decisions to members of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan.

Until then, Daniel will wait for the Species Survival Plan to carefully find him another playmate to join him here or assign him to another zoo.

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