When you meet all the animals whose portraits you paint, sometimes they die. And you learn about it. Most of them have lived long and well-cared for lives, but not all. When I learn another has passed, it suddenly makes them seem more real than ever.
The most recent to pass was Rudi Valentino. He was really the first orangutan I spent hours with and was the gateway being to make me such an orangutan fan. I met Rudi at the Houston Zoo in 2014. Most every afternoon he was sitting high on his scaffolding for hours on end. We stared at one another. I talked to him. When I went back to the zoo a few years later, it was August and hotter and he wasn’t out as much.
Rudi was a hybrid orangutan. Half Sumatran, half Bornean. Born before they decided they were two separate species. For this reason, Rudi was never a father himself. When he died a few weeks back, he was the oldest male orangutan in North America. He had just turned 45. He had advanced heart disease. Although it’s not listed in my shop, I do have 20×20 prints of this portrait available if interested.
Here are two more Rudi portraits:
The first animal I painted who I learned had died was a shock to me. He was quite young. Not 4 years old. I had met him at the Denver Zoo in November 2015 when he was the very proud papa of twins. I had just finished his portrait and another of a beautiful okapi when I reached out to the zoo to learn the okapi’s name. It was Almasi. I mentioned I had just finished a portrait of Sango when they said “it’s so sad about Sango.” What !?!?!?
Beautiful Sango had died before his portrait was finished – less than 5 months after I met him. He couldn’t stand one day he was shaking so badly. Scans and tests showed a deformed pancreas, I think, and liver problems. I may be fuzzy on the details. Not survivable to be sure. I hope it was not anything genetic that could be passed on to his cubs. I fell for him hard that day we met.
And then, several years later, I learned the beautiful okapi Almasi also was no more. I think her death was old age, as with Rudi, but I do not know for sure. Her keeper, who was in charge of all hoofed animals at the Denver Zoo said she was the sweetest of all.
No living thing lives forever. Except perhaps in our hearts for as long as we live. They live in mine.