PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Staff members and guests at the Phoenix Zoo are feeling the loss of one of the zoo's longtime and most well-known and well-loved residents. Daniel, a 15-year-old Bornean orangutan, died over the weekend.
Daniel had a history of chronic respiratory illnesses that likely led to his recent bout with pneumonia. Over the past week, his symptoms had gotten worse, and he was immobilized for medical examination and treatment. Zoo officials say he then went into respiratory arrest and couldn't be revived. Respiratory issues are the most common cause of death in orangutans in zoos.
On April 11, 2006, Daniel was born at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and came to Phoenix in late 2013 to be a companion for female orangutan Kasih. But she died in 2017, and afterward, his keepers spent a lot of time socializing with him.
Daniel's health troubles
But the sweet-faced fellow dealt with a lot of health issues over the next few years. "He was a real trooper," said a statement from the zoo. Daniel endured multiple surgeries to treat his respiratory problems.
It’s not unlike humans to get this kind of sinus surgery, but Daniel is the first orangutan in the country to ever get this kind of surgery, making medical history.
In fact, in March of 2018, Daniel made national news with his ground-breaking sinus surgery. He had been dealing with a sinus infection that left him with labored breathing, coughing, frequent mucous production, and a distended air sac. And medicine just wasn't working.
A history-making surgery
Specialists worked together to perform an endoscopic surgical procedure that significantly impacted Daniel's health at the time. Humans get this particular kind of sinus surgery, but Daniel was the first orangutan in the country to ever get this kind of operation. "I got a note on my desk that said that the zoo was calling about possibly doing an operation on an orangutan, and originally I thought it was a joke," said ENT specialist David Simms at the time.
But it was no joke. Simms got to work right away, 3D printing a cell-by-cell replica of Daniel's skull to prepare for the 3-hour long surgery. "The anatomy is very similar to humans, so once I got inside with my scope, it wasn't that much different," said Simms.
The procedure went off without a hitch. And Daniel's personality? He went right back to monkeying around, thanks to Dr. Simms. Keepers described Daniel as a funny fellow with silly quirks. "Daniel was somewhere between a goofy kid and a grown, mature male," said a statement from the zoo. "You knew you were in for a good day when Dan spent his breakfast time, spinning in circles while eating his favorite snacks. He never sat for a meal without making a small nest to sit in." Daniel was trained to accept nebulizer treatments as part of his medical treatment, and staffers say he took to them easily – sometimes while hanging upside down!
Although he was still missing Kasih, it wasn't long Daniel soon found comfort in a new companion. When Rayma came to Phoenix in April 2019, she and Daniel took to each other right away. At their first meeting, Rayma took Daniel's hand and led him through the night house. The pair have been inseparable ever since. Dan showed Rayma how to use the training ropes, and we're told the two were always ready to get into some minor trouble together. They ate well together, shared the same room (though always separate nests), and investigated all new enrichment as a pair.
Since Daniel's surgery was such a success, his keepers expected he would be able to live into his 50s. Sadly, it was not meant to be.
"This has been a significant blow to the Primate team who, along with our veterinary staff, have provided specialized care for Daniel's allergies and sinus issues for the past few years," reads a statement from the zoo. "The building will not be the same without breakfast antics, long calls down the shifting shaft, and afternoon raspberry blowing." Staff will be monitoring Rayma and ensuring she has extra attention during this time.