Look into the eyes of an orangutan and you see a soul.
So says Zoo Miami spokesman Ron Magill. And that is why so many at the popular South Miami-Dade attraction are mourning the death of Bonnie, the zoo’s 31-year-old orangutan.
The gentle creature died Thursday after emergency surgery to remove a full-term, nonviable fetus. Bonnie had been scheduled for a full exam with an OB/GYN and ultrasound specialist on Monday but began showing signs of elevated distress Thursday afternoon.
Tests found the baby orangutan had no signs of life and had to be removed to prevent further distress and infection. Bonnie died a few hours after the procedure.
“The full-born fetus was kind of stuck in the birth process but the fetus was not viable. This may have contributed to her death. Maybe infection had set in,” Magill said.
For her keepers, and the zoo community, her loss is felt if for no other reason orangutans are 97 percent identical to human DNA.
“That, in itself, creates an unavoidable connection,” Magill said.
The keepers who took care of her and who were going through this pregnancy with her were hoping and praying. To have it end this way was so devastating.
Ron Magill, Zoo Miami spokesman.
“Their personalities are engaging,” he said. “They are gentle. They are not like chimps, hyperactive. They do things slowly, methodically and have a look that seems to come across like they are thinking with you and engaging. Look into the eyes of an orangutan and there seems to be an amazing connection — there’s a soul there, something beyond an animal.”
Bonnie was born at the Audubon Zoo in Louisiana on Jan. 26, 1985, and arrived at Zoo Miami on May 8, 2009. Orangutans — or “man of the forest” — can top 200 pounds with an arm span close to eight feet and are the largest tree-dwelling mammals in the world. Mothers will allow their young to explore but always within protective reach of that long grasping arm.
Orangutans are found in Indonesia on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra. They are critically endangered due to poaching and deforestation for palm oil plantations.
Also missing Bonnie: Mango, her mate and the baby’s father.
“He’s been sad,” Magill said. With good reason. Mango was, shall we say, hot for Bonnie.
“I say this with all deference, he was sexually attracted to her,” Magill said.
After Bonnie became pregnant, Mango would still follow her up into the trees for a little affection.
“Mango would never let her go,” Magill said. “She’d say, ‘Enough. I’m done with you right now,’ but he was incredibly physically attracted to her. But she held her own pretty well. She was a grand dame.”