OKC Zoo Mourns Toba, Oldest Zoo-Born Sumatran Orangutan in the U.S.

A beloved member of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s animal family, Toba, a 52-year-old, female, Sumatran orangutan, was humanely euthanized on Saturday, January 11, 2020, at the Oklahoma City Zoo’s Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.


Born in 1967 in Germany’s Nuremburg Zoo, Toba was the oldest zoo-born orangutan in the US and the third-oldest orangutan in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)–accredited North American zoo.

Toba had been under veterinary care for the last week for symptoms of decline including difficulty breathing, limited movement and loss of appetite. The Zoo’s veterinary team administered an exam on Saturday, which confirmed she was in advanced stages of heart and kidney failure, and the difficult decision was made to humanely euthanize Toba.

AZA reports the median life expectancy for a female Sumatran orangutan is 33.5 years. Toba’s longevity is a testament to the incredible healthcare and welfare she received from the Zoo’s animal care teams during her life.

“Toba was truly a special animal, who connected with Zoo guests and caretakers alike,” said Roby Elsner, OKC Zoo curator of primates. “The impact she’s had during her 44 years at the Oklahoma City Zoo is immeasurable. As sad as we are by her loss and as much as we will miss her, we will work to ensure her legacy of inspiring guests to protect wildlife and wild places lives on.”

Toba with blanket

Since arriving at the OKC Zoo in 1975, Toba has delighted millions of guests and helped spread the critical message of habitat and species conservation. She was an amazing ambassador for the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP) and has five offspring who have subsequently produced two generations of offspring. The SSP is a wildlife conservation program that oversees the population management of select species within AZA member zoos and aquariums.

According to Toba’s primary caretaker, Stephanie Smith – “We all affectionally referred to her as the “queen” of our primate habitat. She quietly observed all of the day to day operations, receiving extra treats and attention whenever caretakers passed by her.”

Toba 3

Toba was best known to Zoo guests for her love of blankets and rarely seen without one covering her head. As a result, Toba’s caretakers say that she had a different "bedhead" hairstyle daily. They also report that Toba enjoyed her "manicures”, which kept her nails from overgrowing, and one of her favorite enrichment activities was painting the walls of her indoor habitat space.

Sumatran orangutans are considered critically endangered in the wild. Globally, 60 percent of primate species are now threatened with extinction and 75 percent have declining populations. This condition exists due extensive habitat loss, increased bushmeat hunting and illegal trade. The Zoo is playing an increasingly critical role in saving wildlife, including orangutans. In 2016, the Zoo partnered with Rainforest Trust to buy and protect over 200,000 acres of forest in Sumatra, which provides habitat for orangutans and is the only reintroduction site for orangutans in the area. Additionally, for Toba’s 50th birthday, OKC Zoo donated money from the Round Up for Conservation Fund to have 20 trees planted in her honor in Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra.  

The Oklahoma City Zoo is also home to Sumatran orangutan breeding pair male, Elok, 19, and female, Negara, 26.

Roby Elsner

-Roby Elsner, OKC Zoo’s curator of primates

Photo credit: Andrea Johnson

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