By Frank McGurty
(Reuters) - An orangutan that was one of the first set of twins known to be born in captivity died at the Seattle zoo this week at age 48, after living two decades longer than the median life expectancy for the Asian great ape, a zoo spokeswoman said on Friday.
Towan and his sister, Chinta, born at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo in 1968, were hybrid crosses between the two orangutan species indigenous to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, spokeswoman Gigi Allianic said.
Interbreeding between Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, the only great apes native to Asia, ended after zoologists established that specimens from each island belonged to distinct species, she said.
As a result of her brother's death, Chinta is now the oldest hybrid in North America, Allianic said.
The median life expectancy of orangutans is 28, although some have lived to be as old as 59, the zoo said.
The highly intelligent, reddish-brown apes tend to live longer in captivity because of the medical care they receive in zoos, Allianic said.
Orangutans, part of the same biological family as Africa's gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, are endangered, primarily because of poaching and the rapid destruction of the forest environments required for their survival, according to the Orangutan Conservancy.
The conservancy, which supports rehabilitation centers in Borneo and Sumatra and other initiatives, believes only 40,000 orangutans remain in the wild, down from as many as 60,000 a decade ago, it said on its website.
Sumatra is part of Indonesia, while Borneo is divided among Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
Towan, which means "Sir" in Malay, died during an examination by veterinarians concerned about his recent respiratory difficulties, often a cause of death in orangutans, the zoo said in a statement. It will announce the specific cause of the 257-pound (116-kg) animal's death after final pathology tests.
Woodland Park said Towan was the inspiration for the character Maurice in the "Planet of the Apes" movie franchise.
"Towan gave me the soul of Maurice," Karin Konoval, who portrayed the character in two of the movies, was quoted as saying in the statement.
(Reporting by Frank McGurty in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)