Chester Zoo announce death of 59-year-old Bornean orangutan Martha

Martha the Bornean orangutan has died at the age of 59. Credit: Chester Zoo

A 59-year-old Bornean orangutan who had a "truly remarkable impact on the future of her species" has died, it has been announced.

Martha, known as 'The Grand Old Lady of Chester Zoo', arrived in the North West in 1966 and became an "influential part of the international conservation breeding programme".

She was a great, great grandmother having had two daughters, Sarikei and Leia, who she lived with alongside their own offspring Dot and a young female born in September 2023.

Paying tribute, Chris Yarwood, who cared for Martha for more than 26 years, aid she was a "wonderful mother" and "true ambassador for her species".

Martha recently became a great, great grandmother. Credit: Chester Zoo

Borneo orangutans, who have a life expectancy of 40 years, are critically endangered in the wild due to deforestation and illegal hunting.

Martha was an orphaned orangutan who, as a baby, had to be raised in care by Barbara Harrison, an early pioneering orangutan conservationist who helped to set up the first orangutan rehabilitation centre in Borneo.She moved to Chester in 1966, going on to have a "remarkable impact" on the critically endangered species. Vets and primate experts at the zoo had been helping her with daily medication and intensive geriatric care, including innovative laser treatment for her arthritis.

Martha arrived at Chester Zoo as an orphan in 1966. Credit: Chester Zoo

But following a deterioration to her condition in recent months, Chester Zoo says the "extremely tough decision was made to put her to sleep."

Mark Brayshaw, Head of Mammals at Chester Zoo, said: "With 29 descendants around the world, she’s had a truly remarkable impact on the future of her species.”

Chris Yarwood added: “Caring for Martha has been a huge privilege. She’ll be hugely missed and will always hold a special place in our hearts.”A small genetic tissue sample from Martha will be cryogenically frozen and stored as part of ongoing work to protect the highly endangered species from extinction, a the zoo said.

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