By Greg Lucas
SACRAMENTO, Calif (Reuters) - Ginger, the oldest known Sumatran orangutan in the United States, was euthanized on Tuesday at the Sacramento Zoo to prevent further suffering from various age-related ailments. She was 56.
Born on the western Indonesian island of Sumatra in 1955, Ginger arrived in California's capital in 1984 after previous stints at zoos in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Chicago, the Sacramento Zoo said.
"As the matriarch of the orangutan group, Ginger was a spectacular ambassador for wildlife. She inspired and motivated zoo visitors to take an active role in conservation," Leslie Field, the zoo's mammals supervisor, said in a statement.
Field described Ginger as "strong-willed."
Ginger had been treated for some time for a variety of age-related maladies, such as arthritis, the zoo said. More recently, neurological issues had impaired the ape's eyesight and coordination, and she was unable to move herself into her enclosure on Monday night.
Ginger, who had no offspring, is survived by two other orangutans at the zoo -- Makan, an 8-year-old male, and Cheli, a 29-year-old female.
The formerly oldest orangutan in captivity, Molly, died in May at the age of 59 at Tokyo's Tama Zoological Park. She was famous for her crayon drawings. Upon Molly's death, another orangutan at the Tokyo zoo, Gypsy, age 57, assumed the world's oldest title, according to news reports.
The oldest living orangutan in the United States is now Tia, a 55-year-old female residing at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas.
Orangutans can live up to 30 years in the wild and 50 years or more in captivity, but Ginger's longevity "surpassed all expectations," the Sacramento Zoo said.
"In the wild, there are threats," said Tonja Swank, a Sacramento Zoo spokeswoman. "Lack of food, lack of habitat. Here we keep them safe and make sure they maintain a healthy diet."
Natives of Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are the only great apes found in Asia. Sumatran orangutans are an endangered species. Those from the nearby island of Borneo are larger with rounder faces.
Current estimates are that only 20,000 to 30,000 orangutans remain in the wild.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)