Ah Meng

Ah Meng (circa 18 June 1960 8 February 2008) (Chinese: ) was a female Sumatran Orangutan and a tourism icon of Singapore. She was smuggled from Indonesia and kept illegally as a domestic pet before being recovered by a veterinarian in 1971. She was then eleven years old and was given a home at the Singapore Zoo. Ah Meng was the head of her small clan, which lives in a large enclosure with about twenty other orangutans. She had five children and became a grandmother in 1990. She belonged to the Sumatran Orangutan species, a rarer breed of orangutan now critically endangered due to illegal logging and poaching. There are about only 7,500 Sumatran Orangutans left in the wild in the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia. Ah Meng died on 8 February 2008. Ah Meng was the poster girl of the Singapore Zoo. Pictures of her have been used in Singapore's tourism advertisements worldwide. She has also been featured in over 30 travel films and more than 300 articles. Some of the foreign dignitaries and celebrities that visited Ah Meng included Prince Philip and Michael Jackson. Due to her early years being raised by a family, Ah Meng was more approachable by humans than other primates in her clan. Due to her interactive nature, she was the first to host the Zoo's 'Breakfast With Ah Meng' programme, whereby visitors would eat their morning meal and then have a photograph t ken with the orangutan. By allowing visitors to interact closely with Ah Meng and other orangutans, the Singapore Zoo aims to raise public awareness of the importance of preserving the orangutan's natural habitat as well as of other environmental issues. In 1992, the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board conferred Ah Meng a "Special Tourism Ambassador" award in recognition of her contribution to tourism in Singapore. She was the first non-human recipient of the award. She received a certificate and a stack of bananas. As she aged, her public appearances became less frequent for fear of subjecting her to stress. Ah Meng died on 8 February 2008 due to old age. She was 48 years old, or 95 orangutan years, and is survived by two sons, Hsing Hsing and Satria, and three daughters, Medan, Hong Bao (Named for the red envelopes given to relatives during Chinese New Year, and the reddish hair orangutans have), and Sayang (a Malay word term similar to darling in English), as well as six grandchildren. On 10 February 2008, a high-profile memorial service for Ah Meng was held before a crowd of 4000 visitors at the Singapore Zoo. As a tribute to her, the next orangutan born at the Singapore Zoo will be named Ah Meng Junior. A durian tree will be planted at her grave because durian was her favourite fruit. A life-sized bronze statue forged in her image was also unveiled.