Puan, world’s oldest Sumatran orangutan dies at Perth Zoo at the age of 62

Before her death at the age of 62, Puan, a Sumantran orangutan, had earned herself the nickname as the Grand Old Lady at Perth Zoo where she had lived for 50 years.

Puan was the oldest living kind of her species. She died last week of what the zoo said was old age.

She was born in the wild and kept during her early years in a private zoo for the Sultan of Jahore. She was born approximately in 1956 but in truth, the orangutan may have been older than initially thought, according to her last guardian at the zoo. .

In 2016, she was awarded a Guinness World Record for being the oldest living Sumatran orangutan in the world. Her name Puan means old lady in Indonesia.

Martina Hart, Puan’s last primary caretaker, wrote a loving tribute to the orangutan in a piece published in the West Australian. Hart noted that Puan left an incredible genetic legacy. She had 11 children in her lifetime, almost triple the number of offspring most orangutans reproduce in the wild, about 4 times in the lives. 

Puan lived long enough to be a grandmother and a great grandmother with 54 descendants, 29 of them still living.

Puan’s offsprings are in 5 European zoos, 3 US ones, a zoo in Singapore, Adelaide, Perth and Sumatra.  Her genetics count for just under 10% of the global captive population.

I’ve known Puan now for just under 18 years, and to be honest I’m just another keeper to her in a long line of people who’ve done their very best to care for her over the years. To look at Puan is to look into the eyes of an animal (and I find even saying ‘animal’ to feel slightly disrespectful) who has seen so much in her lifetime that the mind boggles. She was born in the jungles of Sumatra, and I can only imagine how she would have dealt with being taken from the wild and placed in captivity. To arrive at Perth Zoo from the Sultan of Jahore’s private zoo, in 1968, would have been quite the journey for her. She really has seen it all, from the jungles of the wild to the old exhibits here at Perth, to our now world class exhibits. It fascinates me as to the stories she could tell.

Hart said Puan was a “hands off” individual who was somewhat aloof. Early on in Hart’s career, she wrote that she was told Puan will decide when and if she was allowed to be touched.

Over the years Puan’s eyelashes had greyed, her movement had slowed down and her mind had started to wander. But she remained the matriarch, the quiet, dignified lady she had always been. Puan demanded and deserved respect, and she certainly had it from all her keepers over the years. She was the founding female of the best breeding colony in the world. She was the invaluable teacher to our youngsters before they were released to Bukit Tigapuluh. The maker of the most amazing nests, and the lady who took no nonsense from her children over the years, but was also the most nurturing mother we had.

Puan taught me patience, she taught me that natural and wild instincts never disappear in captivity. She was in a zoo environment, but to the end she always maintained her independence. I feel so grateful to have been in her life, albeit to have been such a small part of her life. But to me she’ll always remain a big part of my life. Caring for Puan has been an absolute privilege, and I’ll always remain grateful to have been involved with such an important individual in Perth Zoo’s history. It’s my absolute wish for her to be remembered for the beautiful, independent lady that she was, and I think it’s an amazing legacy for her great grandson Nyaru to be out living his life in the jungles of Sumatra, where his great grandmother hailed from.

The Perth Zoo also wrote a tribute.

Puan was one of a kind, an individual to the end. She was a grand old lady who demanded respect and earned respect.

As the founder of our world renowned breeding program her legacy is phenomenal with descendants living all over the world.

Rest in peace Puan, may you climb happily in the jungles of the sky. 


Photo credit: Puan. Photo by Alex Asbury

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Peg Fong is also in recovery from newspapers

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