Joe the Orangutan: Erie Zoo’s Scott Mitchell Reflects on the Beloved Animal
Scott Mitchell, director of development at the Erie Zoo, explains how the death of orangutan Joe will not affect the zoo’s mission to regain AZA accreditation.
Baylee DeMuth, Erie Times-News
The enclosure containing Joe the Orangutan, a beloved and well-known Erie Zoo animal that died over the weekend, was a frequent stop for Joe Kalvelage.
For several years, Kalvelage, of Erie, also recently deceased, visited the zoo almost daily, walking around the zoo property for exercise. But taking his steps became the second after having conversations with Joe the orangutan, who died on Saturday at 36 after battling the disease.
According to a statement released by the Erie Zoo, Joe was sedated on March 17 and underwent a comprehensive examination including advanced imaging, cardiovascular and physical examination. Preliminary results of diagnostic evaluations showed that Joe was suffering from heart failure.
“Joe recovered from the procedure and began taking medication to manage his condition, but began showing signs of lethargy and labored breathing on Saturday and died later that day,” the statement said.
A regular stop for zoo patrons
Joe the orangutan was always on Joe Kalvelage’s list to visit the zoo.
In a 2019 interview with the Erie Times-News, Joe Kalvelage said that orangutans “are (like friends). They all have their own personalities. When you see them every day, they get to know you, too. “.
“He went, of course, for the exercise,” Joe Kalvelage’s wife, Eleanor Kalvelage, said. “But I know sometimes he couldn’t get all the way around the zoo like he would have liked, so he would just cut and go see Joe.
After developing lung and bladder cancer, Joe Kalvelage’s visits to the zoo became infrequent, with his last visit being in September, Eleanor Kalvelage said. He died on February 6, aged 79, before the zoo reopened for the season.
Related: Erie Zoo’s Orangutan Joe is feeling ‘under the weather’ and will undergo treatment
Additional test results are pending and will be released at a later date. Information gathered from his diagnostic exams will be shared with the AZA’s Orangutan Species Survival Plan and the Great Ape Heart Project to further study heart disease in great apes, according to the release.
Joe’s death will not affect the Erie Zoo’s mission to regain AZA accreditation, said Scott Mitchell, Erie Zoo’s director of development.
“(Joe’s death) really has nothing to do with accreditation and we’ve been in touch with the AZA, their species survival plan with the orangutans, so they’re aware of what’s going on. passed, … the replacement and one of the other measures that we will take are quite far away,” he said.
To Mitchell, Joe was like family.
“With any animal it’s a big deal, but when you lose an icon like Joe it’s really tough,” he said. “Many of us have been here for a long time and for many of us we have known Joe longer than our own children.”
Joe has been a big part of the zoo experience, especially for Eleanor Kalvelage’s family.
“All of my family and all of our friends are overwhelmed,” the Erie resident said. “I take my grandchildren to see the whole zoo and they especially like the orangutans.”
About Kalvelage: Regular Joe and his daily visits to the Erie Zoo
Joe the orangutan will be missed by many zoo patrons.
On Monday, Jena Matthews visited the Erie Zoo with her two boys. Seeing Joe last summer was a highlight of this visit to the zoo.
“We remember he was one of the reasons people came to the zoo,” Matthews said. “With him not here, it’s just a little bit different.”
But Dasa and Otis, the other two orangutans, reappeared for visitors to the Erie Zoo. Mitchell said they have adjusted well in Joe’s absence and are in good health.
“We just let Dasa and Otis out for the first time this morning in a while,” Mitchell said. “Animal care staff have been spending more time with them and they are fine. We have given them the ability to come in and out of rooms and they have been outside for a bit. They have been in for so long that they’re ready to go.”