Molly, the world's oldest captive orang-utan, died yesterday at the age of 59 at Tokyo's Tama Zoological Park. She arrived at Ueno Zoological Gardens, also in Japan's capital, from Indonesia in 1955 aged three. In the past decade, she had become well known in the country as an artist after developing a talent for drawing with crayons.
The zoo said that her condition had begun to deteriorate in March, though it was not clear whether Molly had been suffering from an illness or had simply died from old age. Following her death, Gypsy, another captive orang-utan at the zoo, becomes the world's oldest, with an estimated age of 57 years and four months.
It is hardly surprising that Molly began painting – orang-utans are some of the most intelligent primates. Since the 1960s, experts have reported that they have been using tools in the wild, including using leaves to amplify sounds they make. They are also capable of using sign language.
In one study, Princess, a juvenile female, learnt close to 40 signs, while Rinnie, a free-ranging adult female orang-utan, learnt almost 30 signs over a two-year period. Not only that, together with chimpanzees, gorillas and several other species of ape, orang-utans show reactions similar to laughter in response to playful actions such as wrestling, play-chasing, or tickling.