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Zoo News Blog

North America’s Oldest Male Orangutan Dies Shortly After Turning 45

Houston Zoo Mourns the Death of Beloved Rudi Valentino

It is with great sadness that the Houston Zoo announces the passing of Rudi Valentino, North America’s oldest male orangutan. Rudi passed away on Dec. 20, 2022, just a few days after the Zoo celebrated his 45th birthday. Rudi had advanced heart disease, which is a common problem in adult male orangutans. Up until the time of his death, it was very well managed with careful monitoring and medications in collaboration with the Great Ape Heart Project.

Rudi was born on Dec. 8, 1977, at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX. He arrived at the Houston Zoo in 1978 and quickly became a beloved member of the Zoo family. In 1991, Rudi moved to the Milwaukee Zoo before moving back to Houston in 1993.

Over the years, Rudi won the hearts of countless volunteers, guests, and staff members with his gentle nature and intelligent personality. He was a true ambassador for his species, raising awareness about the importance of conservation and the plight of endangered primates. Animal care professionals reported that Rudi was not showing signs of illness leading up to his death.

“Rudi was an incredible ambassador for his species,” said Tarah Cornelius, director of animal care at the Houston Zoo. “Rudi will be deeply missed by all who knew him, and his memory will live on through the lives he touched and the important work he inspired. He will always be remembered as a beloved member of the Houston Zoo family.”

Everyone can do their part to save wild orangutans by using recycled paper products. Orangutans need trees to live, and by using less paper or recycled-content paper products, fewer trees are cut down. As part of the Houston Zoo’s commitment to orangutan conservation, the Zoo supports efforts to replant forests in Borneo, where wild orangutans live. The Zoo also provides support to local communities to help them protect and preserve these vital ecosystems. When guests were delighted by Rudi, he was directly helping his wild cousins.

The Zoo’s animal care team will keep a close eye on Rudi’s companion, Kelly, and the other remaining orangutans, Takai, Cheyenne, and Aurora, for signs of grief.