With heavy hearts, Hogle Zoo staff mourns the sudden decline and passing of adult male orangutan, Elijah.
A staff and community favorite, Elijah, better known as Eli, became a national superstar for correctly predicting the winner of the Super Bowl the last seven out of seven years – landing him national media attention including in Sports Illustrated magazine, MSNBC and numerous national TV news programs.
The 24-year-old Eli died from complications due to breast cancer.
Following his passing, Senior Zoo Veterinarian, Dr. Nancy Carpenter, performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) and found signs of metastic cancer in the liver and the neck area. Samples will be sent out for further analysis which will take one to two months for results.
Eli had been exhibiting signs of discomfort and a lack of appetite. Veterinary staff worked closely with ape keepers and, concerned that it was Eli’s cancer, conducted an exploratory procedure last Saturday, “We were hoping to find something fixable,” said Dr. Carpenter. “The staff worked tirelessly but the mass in his neck was blocking his airway and he succumbed during the procedure.”
Eli was diagnosed with mammary gland adenocarcinoma (breast cancer) in May of 2011. This is extremely rare in orangutans, with only two reported cases for females and no reported cases in males.
Zoo veterinary staff closely monitored Eli’s condition over the ensuing years. After his diagnosis he had two surgeries to remove the original mass; one of the surgeries being performed by a breast cancer surgeon from the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Eli also had CT scans to look for metastasis and numerous ultrasounds to monitor the progression of the tumor in lymph nodes in his arm pit area. He was on traditional medications used in humans for this condition.
“Eli was a model patient and allowed us to follow his cancer with regular ultrasound exams and blood collections during training sessions,” Dr. Carpenter said. “He will be missed for his great personality as well as his cooperative nature.”
Born at Topeka Zoo, Topeka KS, Eli moved to Utah in 2004 and lived as a family unit with Eve, 23, and was a gentle father to nine-year-old Acara.
“Eli was the class clown, a total ham,” said senior great ape keeper, Bobbi Gordon. “He aimed to entertain and please. He played gently with Acara and was very interactive with the public. He enjoyed doing silly things to make guests or keepers squeal, laugh and scream,” she said.
He also enjoyed training sessions with the keepers, “he was very eager to please so he was a training sponge,” Gordon said. “He had a lot of patience as long as you were giving him attention.”
“I was lucky enough to have worked with Elijah for 10 years,” said Erin Jones, senior ape keeper. “He was always eager to learn, even complicated behaviors. He made me a better keeper.”
Eli’s larger-than-life presence, mischievous grin and his decisive Super Bowl picks will be sorely missed.
Most media outlets have footage of Eli during various primate picks. Here is a link for 2014′s prediction of the Seattle Seahawks: