Chester Zoo pays tribute after beloved Bornean orangutan Martha dies aged 59

"She will always hold a special place in our hearts."

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 19th January 2024

Chester Zoo has announced that their beloved Bornean orangutan, Martha, has sadly died at the age of 59.

One of the longest-running residents of the UK’s leading charity zoo, Martha had been in good health for the majority of her nearly 60 years on earth, but within the last few years, she sadly began to develop and suffer from some age-related complications.

Vets and primate experts at Chester Zoo had been helping her with daily medication and intensive geriatric care, which including innovative laser treatment for her arthritis – but sadly, following a deterioration to her condition in recent months, the decision was made to put her to sleep.

Chester Zoo says the decision was an “extremely tough” one, and her death has been announced with “a very heavy heart”.

Martha’s story is truly an incredible one.


Orphaned as a baby, Martha had to be raised in care by Barbara Harrison – who was an early pioneering orangutan conservationist, who helped to set up the first orangutan rehabilitation centre in Borneo – before she moved to Chester in 1966, where she went on to become a hugely-influential part of the international conservation breeding programme that works to ensure a safety-net population of Bornean orangutans.

At an estimated 59 years, she lived well beyond her typical life expectancy – which, in the wild, is estimated to be around 40 years.


Martha was a great great-grandmother, having had two daughters – Sarikei and Leia – who she lived with at Chester Zoo, alongside her daughters’ own offspring, Dot, and a young female born in September 2023.

The zoo has paid a touching tribute to their “grand old lady” / Credit: Chester Zoo

“There really aren’t enough words to convey the awe and respect that I have for Martha, the grand old lady of Chester Zoo,” Chris Yarwood, who is the Primate Assistant Manager and long-time carer for Martha of more than 26 years, said in a touching tribute.

“It feels incredibly strange to have to say goodbye.


“A wonderful mother and role model to her daughters, Sarikei and Leia, Martha was a true ambassador for her species, and fundamental to the establishment of the global conservation breeding programme, working to protect these charismatic, but sadly highly threatened animals.”

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Mr Yarwood said getting to care for Martha for close to three decades had been “a huge privilege”, and said she’ll be “hugely missed”.

“She will always hold a special place in our hearts,” he concluded.

Featured Image – Chester Zoo