Phoenix zoo's orangutan, 52, ill with cancer - FOX 10 News |

Phoenix zoo's orangutan, 52, ill with cancer

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Duchess (Courtesy: John Steinacker) Duchess (Courtesy: John Steinacker)

She really is the grand dame of the Phoenix Zoo. Duchess the orangutan is the oldest living Bornean orangutan in North America -- but she's fighting to stay alive.

Duchess has cancer. Veterinarians spotted it in her abdomen and now the zoo is trying to make her as comfortable as possible.

She doesn't have a lot of time left.

At 52 years old, Duchess is older than the zoo. She's entertained generations of Arizonans.

"It has been tough, this is probably the toughest part of my career," says caretaker Denise Wagner.

Denise Wagner and Bob Keesecker first noticed something was wrong a few weeks ago.

"Her normal treat and ideal food that she likes she didn't want to accept," says Keesecker. "She is somebody who would never turn down a treat."

The orangutan, who is usually very playful and active, had quickly slowed down.

"Obviously we rely on observation and we rely on experience but there is a lot of gut instinct that goes along with this job as well. And that is why we brought the vets in as soon as we did," says Wagner.

The orangutans at the zoo are always a big draw. Duchess' has a33-year-old daughter and 6-year-old granddaughter.

She's been at the zoo since the beginning. News of her illness spread quickly.

"I have heard from a lot of my colleagues all over the country and all over the world giving us their support."

At 52, Duchess has outlived some of her children, and has lived longer than most orangutans in captivity.

"We are trying some treatments, things that we can give her, but we are not really optimistic that it is going to prolong anything for her," says Phoenix Zoo Dr. Gary West.

Like anyone who is sick, Duchess has good days and bad ones. Her caretakers are letting the other orangutans, including her family, spend time with her in her room.

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