The sudden death of Mahal -- Milwaukee County Zoo's 5-year old orphaned orangutan -- the morning of December 29th has hit us hard.
Since his arrival in Milwaukee, my wife and I have enjoyed visiting the zoo and watching him grow. He was a treasure.
If you have lived in Milwaukee the past 5 years and haven't seen and watched Mahal play behind his glass, you really missed a zoological treat. Mahal was precious. He was funny, person-like, cute, energetic, curious and a real ham.
We've been zoological members nearly the entire time he's been alive. Just Christmas Day we considered going to the zoo. I recall saying, "I haven't seen Mahal in a while. I miss that guy!"
That was only four days ago. How I wish we would have went.
There were many times we would visit the zoo and just watch Mahal for an entire hour. We'd struggle unsuccessfully to snap a photo of him -- he was always on the move! Getting him to sit still for a picture was nearly impossible. He was every bit as curious about the world around him as any 5-year old. He'd hang from branch upside-down and smile at his admirers. Or bury himself in straw then suddenly pop out in an effort to surprise his surrogate mother, MJ. We would all laugh.
People would watch him for a bit, but I couldn't resist telling them the story: Mahal was rejected by his biological mother. He was flown to Milwaukee with the hope that Milwaukee's female orangutan, MJ, would care for and raise him. And care for him she did! Wherever Mahal went in their home, MJ was close to follow. Always prepared to protect him from peril and admonish his trespasses -- MJ was the ultimate guardian.
Such a good mother she was too. She will be devastated.
Watching MJ and Mahal was not only fun, but it was educational It was hard not to watch their interactions and see human-like caring and nurturing. They are intelligent creatures, not your normal feces-tossing furry primates. They are deliberate, delicate and intelligent beings, exhibiting the same care for each other as us humans do. Their behavior fascinated me, and I learned from them.
I hope, somehow, MJ can carry on and maybe even adopt another parental rejected infant. If there can be an upshot, this will be it.
Mahal, we loved you. You were more than a zoo animal in a cage to us. You exhibited youthful exuberance and innocence in its purest form. That's why it was such a joy to see you. You will be missed --greatly and eternally.
Thank you for showing us the best that we humans can hope to be -- innocent, pure, curious and playful.