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Matriarch of Denver Zoo’s orangutan family dies unexpectedly

Nias, the 32-year-old matriarch of the Denver Zoo's Sumatran orangutan family, passed away on Dec. 17.
Credit: Courtesy Denver Zoo
Nias, the 32-year-old matriarch of the Denver Zoo's orangutan family, died unexpectedly.

DENVER — Nias, known as the matriarch of the Denver Zoo’s Sumatran orangutan family, has died unexpectedly. She was 32 years old.

The Denver Zoo wrote in a Facebook post that Nias died on Dec. 17. Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Services is currently working to determine her cause of death.

Nias first came to the Denver Zoo in 2005 at age 17. She is the mother to two young daughters, Hesty, 10, and Cerah, 2.

“Nias was known as the ‘Queen Bee’ of the Zoo’s Great Apes exhibit,” the zoo wrote. “Her keepers knew not to give a treat to another orangutan if they didn’t plan on giving one to Nias, and her mate, Berani, always followed her lead.”

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In addition to being a loving mother to Cerah and Hesty, the zoo said Nias was a “fiercely loyal friend to her care team.”

Cindy Cossaboon, a primate keeper who knew Nias for years, wrote a tribute to her on the zoo’s website. She said some of Nias’ nicknames of the years have included Mrs. Neeners, Ladybug, Queen Bee and Sweetpea.

“When Nias accepted you into her circle, she was truly a silly, goofy girl,” Cossaboon wrote. “She had the cutest giggle and she knew I loved it. She would somersault and do headstands all while giggling away. Sometimes we would be sitting in our office and hear giggling and playing sounds. We would sneak back and see the entire family playing and wrestling together.”

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Cossaboon described how when she had a baby of her own, Nias was initially angry at her for having time off (“she was often unhappy when I took vacation time”).

“She let me know by giving me the cold shoulder that I had been gone too long,” she wrote. “Despite being mad at me, I could tell she really wanted to see my baby. So, I turned my back to the glass and held the baby up.

“She came over immediately and spent quite a bit of time looking at my baby. On that day, we were both just moms, soaking in the splendor of a new life.”

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