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Memphis Zoo Mourns the Loss of Debbie the Siamang

The Memphis Zoo is deeply saddened to announce the death of “Debbie,” the oldest of the Zoo’s siamangs. Debbie died Wednesday, January 13 at the age of 47 after her health began to dramatically decline earlier in the month. She was the oldest female siamang in North America. 

 As Zoo keepers and veterinarians began to notice her decline, she was put on Zoo hospice care to closely monitor her health and keep her as comfortable as possible. Out of the Zoo’s deep love for this animal, the decision was made to euthanize her in order to avoid prolonging any suffering.   

“Debbie was a well-known animal here at the Memphis Zoo,” said Chuck Brady, Memphis Zoo CEO & President. “What’s more is she was well-loved by visitors and staff alike. She had a wonderful life, and we’re proud of the care we gave her.”   

Debbie was a wild-caught animal that moved to the Memphis Zoo with her long-time mate, “Danny,” in 1969.  Many Zoo guests will remember the pair in their exhibit off the old Primate House. Debbie and Danny could be seen swinging back and forth throughout the days.   

 “Sometimes they moved so fast, they were a blur,” Brady said.   

 Assistant Curator Houston Winbigler agreed.   

“They taught thousands of visitors the word ‘brachiate,’ which refers to how apes use their arms to move from branch to branch,” said Winbigler.   

 They also taught Memphians how loud they could be.    

“Their piercing calls could be heard all over Midtown,” Winbigler said.   

The couple moved from the old Primate House to their new, state-of-the-art Primate Canyon exhibit in 1994.  When Danny passed away in 2002, Debbie was introduced to new friends, in quite an unconventional manner.   

Knowing that Debbie needed companionship, the decision was made to create a mixed species exhibit. Debbie was introduced to the orangutan yard and family. This worked especially well considering both species are arboreal, or tree dwelling, primates.   

“The orangutan exhibit offered more space for Debbie and the opportunity to interact with another species,” said Matt Thompson, Director of Animal Program. “It became apparent rather quickly that Debbie had formed a special friendship with another occupant.”   

While it was an unusual move, it certainly proved to be a prudent one. Debbie and “Chickie,” our 38-year old, female Sumatran Orangutan, built a friendship forged on trust, mutual admiration and a little patience.    

The two became the best of friends. Chickie often groomed Debbie, and they even slept in the same room. There were many days when keepers would find them cuddled up together.   

As Debbie got older, keepers began to notice her mobility on the ground becoming a challenge for her. She walked slowly and cautiously, almost in a hunched fashion. In order to keep her active, mobile and happy, the decision was made to make alterations to the orangutan yard.   

Keepers lowered the height of her ropes, which made the trees more accessible. This simple adaptation allowed Debbie to continue swinging through the air with the greatest of ease, and reach all parts of her yard.   

The Memphis Zoo family will miss its beloved “Debbie Siamang.”   

Visitors who would like to pay their respects may leave cards and flowers at the gorilla statue on the Zoo’s front plaza on Saturday, February 13, 2016.   

 About the Memphis Zoo Siamangs
 The Memphis Zoo has had siamangs in its collection since 1969, when Debbie and Danny arrived. Siamangs are loud, vocal primates whose cries can be heard throughout the Zoo, especially in the morning hours. The Zoo currently has a pair of siamangs, “Loki” and “Raya” in Primate Canyon.  

Posted by Zoo Info at 9:09 AM