Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center Mourns the Loss of Beloved Orangutan Lena

Lena, a 38 year old Bornean orangutan, passed away at the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center yesterday. She became ill last Wednesday. With her condition not improving, zoo staff planned to do a full medical workup on Lena on Monday. At about 10:30 and under anesthesia, she was transported to the zoo’s animal hospital. While the zoo’s medical team was taking radiographs, Lena went into cardiac arrest. Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful.

Lena was born at the Buffalo Zoo on April 2, 1982. She came to the Topeka Zoo from the Columbus Zoo in 2005. It was at the Topeka Zoo where she really flourished. She enjoyed interacting with people. If you were ever at the Zoo and had a kiss blown to you by an orangutan, that was Lena.

“Lena had a way of working her way right into your heart,” said Zoo Director Brendan Wiley. Cris Sandberg, one of Lena’s Zoo Keepers, said, “She was special. I will always remember the love she had for the people she knew and her afternoon need for back scratches.”

A necropsy performed on Lena showed that she had an abnormal left kidney. “At the moment, it is not obvious as to the cause of death,” said Staff Veterinarian Shirley Llizo. Dr. Llizo has submitted for blood testing and histopathology to better understand the illness that led to Lena’s demise.

“Social distancing has made it more challenging for staff to grieve for the loss of Lena,” said Wiley. “In these uncertain times, we could not be more proud of our team and the care they offered Lena. She will be missed.”

Kay Reece, a Topeka Zoo Docent shared this, “Lena was a spirit animal. She loved her time outside watching from her barrel as visitors and friends came to see her. Lena remembered her friends and was always interested in what they had to share with her, whether pocket contents or bubbles, pictures or a kiss. Her instinct for learning and love for friends will be something I will never forget. Where a beautiful soul has lived; beautiful memories remain.”