Major, believed to be the world's oldest reproductive orang-utan in captivity has died at a zoo in western France, aged 50.
Wednesday was a sad day at the zoo at La Boissière du Doré, Loire-atlantique near the city of Nantes in Western France. The zoo's talisman, Major, a Sumatran orang-utan, passed away peacefully on Tuesday night a few weeks after celebrating his 50th birthday, reports France 24.
Major is believed to have been born in Indonesia in 1962. He was captured in 1969 and spent 20 years at zoos at Gelsenkirchen and Duisburg in Germany before taking up permanent residence at the zoo at La Boissière du Doré on March 21, 1989, where he remained for the next 23 years.
Weighing in at 125 kilograms (about 275 pounds), Major was a gentle giant of an ape. Speaking to Ouest-France newspaper, Sébastien Laurent, zoo director at La Boissière du Doré described Major’s rare sociability, "It was very unique. I visited him from time to time in its cage, and especially on his birthday.”
Of Major’s passing, the zoo director said, “I saw him playing on Monday, as he often did, with his children. On Tuesday he ate normally, made his bed and followed all his little habits. And on Wednesday the guys found him dead on his bed, his body still warm. He lived at the zoo for 23 years and this is our mascot that has left us, it's hard."
In July 2012, Major had celebrated his 50th birthday anniversary at the zoo and to mark La Boissière du Doré’s most famous resident reaching his half-century, a large pink birthday cake was baked in his honour. Major didn’t say ‘no’ to his birthday treat.
Press Office, Parc Zoologique de la Boissiere du Dore, Loire-atlantique, France
Two of Major's offspring, Joko and Becky at Parc Zoologique de la Boissiere du Dore, western France
Major the orang-utan has set a record for longevity in captivity but his legacy will live on since during his lifetime he is known to have fathered 16 baby orang-utans, eight of whom were born at La Boissière du Doré.
In common with a number of zoos across the world, the zoo at La Boissière du Doré has an active programme aimed at preserving the orang-utan as a species. Sadly, in the wild, orang-utans are under threat. Conservationists believe that, principally as a result of de-forestation of the orang-utans’ habitat in the rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo in south east Asia, numbers in the wild have declined from around 60,000 ten years ago to a present day figure of around 40,000.
If the orang-utan became extinct it would be a sad loss to humanity since the species, scientists believe, is Mankind’s nearest relative amongst the great apes, sharing 97% of its DNA with humans.
You can find out more about the orang-utan family in Loire-atlantique on the Boissière du Doré website whilst, in North America, a good starting point for those wishing to ensure the orang-utan survives is the Los Angeles’ based Orang-utan Conservancy.