Popular orangutan's death still being investigated

CREATED Jan 22, 2013

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  • mahal,nws,Jack Orton,5 of several - Mahal, a 9-month-old orangutan who was rejected by its mother at a Colorado zoo. plays with visitors at his enclosure at the Milwaukee County Zoo where an orangtan named MJ is his surrogate mother. Image by Jack Orton

MILWAUKEE - Officials at the Milwaukee County Zoo are still trying to determine what caused the facility's popular 5-year-old orangutan to die last December.

"We still don't have a cause (of death) yet," Zoo director Chuck Wickenhauser told WTMJ's Wisconsin's Afternoon News.  "We know that his immune system was compromised somehow.  We're waiting for the final necropsy results to find out what happened."

Mahal was a popular attraction at the zoo. His path to stardom is well documented.

The red-haired great ape's death hit the zoo staff hard, according to Wickenhauser.  It's also been tough on his surrogate mother, M.J.

"There has been some depression there," Wickenhauser said.  "She wasn't eating or interacting with the keeper staff."

The staff introduced M.J. to a male orangutan to help with companionship, according to Wickenhauser.

"I think she appreciated the attention," he said.