RIP, Mahal -- Milwaukee's Favorite Baby Orangutan

In memorial of Milwaukee's favorite orangutan -- Mahal.

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.

RIP, Mahal.

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Mary Kubesch January 01, 2013 at 12:26 AM
This is a very nice tribute to Mahal. He was a favorite of mine too and every time I went to the Zoo I would spend lots of time just watching him. He was a wonderful ambassador for his species and the Zoo. I will truly miss him.
Cathy January 01, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Everyone needs to continue visiting MJ, so that she knows that she is loved and that we feel her loss, because Mahal was truly her baby.. However, when he was communicating with his friends-i.e.-the Zookeepers, Zoo Pride members, and his loyal fans, Mahal was all of ours. He was our baby, too!
bridget January 02, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Lovely tribute to Mahal. He was truly a star of the Zoo! He brought joy into the lives of many visitors since his arrival. I agree, MJ and Tommy as well will need to have more visitors in the weeks ahead
Sheri January 04, 2013 at 09:34 PM
Love the article! I moved here not that long ago, last year I got a zoo pass and even started volunteering there, I spend as much time as I could standing and watching them! I even send the book about him to my sister, who is a preschool teacher, in Minnesota. Her kids love that story and were sad to hear of his death also. He will be missed by all! RIP Mahal! I even had to go and visit MJ and Tommy on New Years Day!


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