CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The story of a University of Tennessee-Chattanooga researcher and the orangutan she taught to use sign language is set to air at 8 p.m. Saturday on the ABC network program “That’s Incredible.”
Dr. Lyn Miles, a UT-Chattanooga anthropology professor, raised Chantek the orangutan in a house trailer from 1978 to 1986 and taught him to sign.
Miles said the two were separated in 1986 when Chantek grew too large to stay at UTC. He was sent to the Yerkes Center animal facility at Emory University in Atlanta and Miles’ research was discontinued.
They were reunited in October 1997 when he was given to Zoo Atlanta, who invited Miles to continue her research.
“The television program focuses on that moment when we first saw each other again after such a long period apart,” Miles said. “It was an emotional moment for both of us.”
Miles said she raised Chantek as a child, not a pet, and taught him to use 150 signs, understand 500 signs and comprehend thousands of English words.
“Chantek is using about a dozen signs now from his old vocabulary and is rapidly improving,” Miles said. “His vocabulary is growing and he is learning new signs at the zoo. He has great keepers and the zoo is seeking a female companion for him.”
Contact: Dr. Lyn Miles (423-755-4440 or 404-636-4342) or Barbara Kennedy (423-755-4363)