Monday, May 30, 2016

Harambe died horribly. Let's make his death count for something.

SIGN OUR PETITION!

Cincinnati Zoo officials shot Harambe, a magnificent silverback gorilla, after an inquisitive child fell into the exhibit. The tragedy is painful for everyone: the person who pulled the trigger, keepers who loved and cared for Harambe, the visitors who admired him throughout his life and who witnessed the horror, the boy and his family, and the other gorillas in Harambe’s close-knit group.

It isn’t the first time that zoo keepers have had to deal with this kind of horrible experience. In 1996, a boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at Brookfield Zoo. Ten years earlier, a boy fell into the gorilla exhibit at Jersey Zoo, in the United Kingdom.

Many experts believe that Harambe was not trying to harm the boy; but zoo officials should not be put in the position of having to make the choice to kill. It is time for zoos to make zoos safer for their gorillas and other great apes.

Through the decades, zoos have evolved from entertainment arenas to educational facilities dedicated to improving the visitor “experience” and encouraging wildlife conservation. I hope people will sign a petition urging zoos to evolve again, into organizations that put protection of animal welfare above all other considerations. They must make ape exhibits childproof and “dummy-proof” (for those drunk or deluded visitors who imagine they have some sort of special connection with animals). This petition urges the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and specifically the Gorilla Species Survival Program, to raise exhibit standards to “impenetrable,” to improve the welfare and protect the lives of the apes under their care. This petition further urges the Gorilla SSP to be transparent and inform the public of their decisions on this issue.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Unlocking the cage?

An intriguing movie will open in theaters this June. Unlocking the Cage is the story of lawyer Steven Wise's struggle to obtain legal rights for non-humans, especially chimpanzees.

There is no question Wise's cause is just. Many, many animal experts wish we could take chimpanzees (and orcas and elephants, etc., etc.) out of harmful captive situations. But is the American society ready to grant legal rights to non-human primates? Is that the fight we want to take on right now? I have to admit that I would feel more comfortable about the movie's premise (and the legal effort's prospects) if it didn't prominently feature Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, who has a record of loony beliefs, including her assertion that bonobos can talk. (See What the hell is going on at the Great Ape Trust?)

Unlocking the Cage may have the tremendous impact of Blackfish. Alternatively, it could set back efforts to get research and pet chimps into sanctuaries, especially if it shows Steven and Sue going off the deep end. I sincerely hope it's the former.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Announcement marks the beginning of the end for sales of pet chimps

Today is a day that will go down in U.S. history. It is the beginning of the end of selling chimpanzees as pets or for use in entertainment. In a brilliant (and long-awaited) decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service finally announced that they were ending their split designation on the status of chimps. While they have long classified wild chimpanzees as endangered, they had not extended that protection to captive chimpanzees in the U.S. That split designation -- which effectively ends in September -- allowed chimpanzee breeders to sell baby chimps to naive people who thought they could handle a chimpanzee in their home for 40 or 50 years. These breeders could sell to anyone, compliments of Uncle Sam.

People (like my Aunt Elsie, pictured here) have
owned chimps as pets since the 1950s. With today's
fantastic announcement, the door is quickly
closing on private chimp ownership.
No more! Well, almost. Under this new rule, FWS will require a permit to buy or sell a chimpanzee across state lines -- but FWS will only issue permits “for scientific research related to the species or to enhance the propagation or survival of the species.” Unfortunately, the exploiters don’t need a federal permit if they buy or sell within the state, although state and local laws and regulations may apply.

This new restriction will put the nail in the coffin of chimp trade emanating out of Missouri, where a breeder sells baby chimps and uses the money to support the care of over a dozen adult chimpanzees she holds for more breeding (or because the would-be owners returned their chimp). This breeder is the last one of a nasty industry here in the U.S. Let’s hope she uses her head in deciding what she’s going to do now that her business is limited to sales in Missouri.

The biomedical research industry faces similar restrictions, even as far as transporting chimpanzee blood across state lines. The required permit may only be issued if it helps chimpanzee survival. Researchers in invasive biomedical programs have been reeling from the withdrawal of support previously provided by the National Institutes of Health, and this decision heaps another major requirement on their increasingly onerous regulatory burden.

But we need to celebrate this day for another reason, as well. It is not only the beginning of the end of treating chimps as commodities, it is the beginning of a new beginning of a united effort to give these magnificent captive animals the respect and care they deserve. Look at the chimpanzee defenders who support this decision: the U.S. government, animal welfare organizations, and zoos. The petition that started this process had a strong coalition: The Humane Society of the United States, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance, the Fund for Animals, Humane Society International, and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society. They are all on the same page, striving for the same goals, working together!

Dr. Steve Ross provides pivotal guidance in U.S. captive
chimp welfare.
I know that a lot of the credit is going to go to Dr. Jane Goodall, who wrote a strong letter arguing for “uplisting” captive chimps to endangered species status, but my hero in this is Dr. Steve Ross, the dynamic director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. Ross was the zoo association’s guiding hand for the FWS petition, and is the behind-the-scenes person who quietly provides guidance, advice, and expertise in just about any area that will make life better for chimps (as a species and as individuals). He is always objective, rarely judgmental, and is trusted by nearly everyone who has ever worked with chimps. He was a major mover in developing the coalition that petitioned FWS for the change, and his reasoned and caring influence will be a major asset as chimp care in the U.S. continues to expand into a new beginning.

I reported in 2011, “FWS is the best hope for giving chimpanzees the respect and protection they deserve. FWS can help the country overcome its legacy of zoo chimp shows and other mistakes.” Today, with zoos, sanctuaries, and the ape advocacy community working together with the federal government, the future for U.S. captive chimpanzees has never been brighter

Friday, May 29, 2015

Join Hare in urging New York Blood Center: Don't abandon chimpanzees for whom you promised to provide lifetime care!

The following is by Dr. Brian Hare, from his change.org petition

Sixty six captive chimpanzees in Liberia, Africa have been abandoned by the New York Blood Center (NYBC) -- an organization with assets of $450 million and major corporate partners. The chimpanzees are in danger of dehydration and starvation. Please sign the petition to urge NYBC to reinstate funding for this chimpanzee colony before it’s too late!

For years, NYBC used these chimpanzees in medical research, infecting many of them with hepatitis viruses. After decades of confinement, these chimpanzees do not have the skills to survive in the wild. They are completely reliant on humans for survival, but despite previously committing to the lifetime care of these chimpanzees, NYBC recently withdrew all funding for the care of the chimpanzees in March. Effectively they have left these poor chimpanzees to suffer from dehydration and starvation.

The New York Blood Center is a large American organization that provides blood, develops blood related products, but it also conducts medical research. In the 1970's, NYBC worked with the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research to create Vilab II to obtain and breed chimpanzees for use in medical research.

After using and profiting from them for decades, NYBC decided the chimps were no longer needed for future research and retired them to small islands near the lab. NYBC publicly proclaimed their commitment to the lifetime care of the chimpanzees, but walked away from their ethical responsibility when they stopped all funding for the chimpanzees' care.

We owe our thanks to the longtime caretakers who have continued to care for the chimpanzees voluntarily but this is not a sustainable solution for the chimpanzees or their caretakers. Without money to provide for the needs of these chimpanzees, they will suffer from dehydration and starvation.

These chimps need your voice to survive so please sign my petition asking NYBC to fulfill their promise of lifetime care for these chimpanzees. I will also send your messages to NYBC’s corporate partners (Metlife, IBM and Citigroup) to let them know about your concern.

After signing the petition, please visit the fundraising page to donate for the emergency care of these chimps.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

New book reveals amazing details about the Iowa bonobos, other apes, and the researchers who exploit them

“He and his colleagues wrote about the evolution of morality deep in the primate order, about how empathy is alive and well among the apes, and had very effectively shown that humans and bonobos and chimps and orangutans are almost the same in capacities to think and feel. Yet they gleaned their insights mainly by studying apes imprisoned for life in places no one wanted to show me.”

Exactly! Finally, someone understands what has been bothering me about Frans de Waal for the last several years. In a newly released book, SMARTS, author/journalist Elaine Dewar looked behind de Waal’s public facade, and has the guts to call him out.

Even better, she’s looked into the unpaid taxes, court records, and “research” history of the Great Ape Trust / Iowa Primate Learning Center / Bonobo Hope / Ape Cognition and Conservation Initiative, and has uncovered details behind the shenanigans that have made them a laughingstock. The fights over ownership of the bonobos, the dysfunction as the ever-changing board of directors keeps kicking Sue Savage-Rumbaugh out of the picture, the continuing funding debacle, and the legal “scorched earth” strategy (promised by Savage-Rumbaugh’s attorney) is so much worse than I imagined.