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Zoo Plans to Split Ape Couple to Aid Species

June 20, 1988

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ After nearly 20 years together, Josephine and Denny are splitting up, apparently because they’re not suited for each other. The orangutan couple’s 10-year-old daughter will stay with her father.

San Francisco Zoo officials want to send Josephine to the Philadelphia Zoo because she and Denny belong to separate subspecies. Josephine is a Bornean orangutan; Denny is Sumatran.

Experts, who only recently became adept at distinguishing between the two subspecies, believe it is best to keep the genetic strains separate, zoo Director Saul Kitchener said.

″These animals are not fulfilling their destinies,″ he said. ″They are producing ’non-animals.‴

Two San Francisco Zoo benefactors, however, aren’t buying zoo officials’ arguments.

″These are extremely sensitive animals, among our closest relatives in nature. (Joesphine) has been here for 22 years, and a change of this magnitude ... can only be seen as extremely cruel,″ Carroll and Violet Soo-Hoo said recently in a letter to Mayor Art Agnos.

The couple said they plan to organize a petition drive to halt Josephine’s departure.

″We know what happens when humans are uprooted from their families. It is not much different for these animals, since they are so intelligent,″ said the Soo-Hoos, who donated Denny to the zoo.

But Kitchener said much of that argument is misplaced sentimentality, and the larger issue is the survival of the endangered apes.

Violet, Josephine and Denny’s only offspring - born in 1978 and named after Mrs. Soo-Hoo - would not exist in the wild because Borneo and Sumatra are separate islands, Kitchener said. Josephine has been on contraceptives to prevent the birth of another hybrid.

″When the types of orangutans mate, the hybrid is probably closer to the original orangutan, since Borneo and Sumatra were once attached,″ Mrs. Soo- Hoo said. ″And we’re not against sending animals to other zoos. It is just that after 22 years, it makes no sense whatsoever to uproot this orangutan, subspecies or no subspecies.″

But Kitchener the impending breakup should not be traumatic.

″The orangutan in the wild is much more a loner than the other great apes,″ Kitchener said. ″While it is true they have been together a while, if you come and watch them, you do not see them hugging and grooming each other. They will do fine without each other.″

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