Monday, December 26, 2011

2012 - Year of the Chimpanzee

If we are ever going to get U.S. captive chimpanzees out of laboratories, basements, and filming studios and give them sanctuary, with the respect and care they deserve the year 2012 will be pivotal. In fact, I believe that 2012 will be the Year of the Chimpanzee. So I’ve started a new Facebook page,, to bring together news of all the organizations, events, and people who are fighting for new U.S. policies on chimpanzees.
2012 is the year to stop
chimp research
The National Institutes of Health is on the brink of stopping the flow of federal dollars for unnecessary chimpanzee research, although we still have fights ahead on what exactly is “unnecessary.” (I believe that all invasive research is unnecessary and wasteful, not to mention cruel.)
The Fish and Wildlife Service has asked for comments on whether to consider designating ALL chimpanzees, captive and free, as endangered. If history is any indication, the designation process will be long and hard. The research industry will bring everything into this fight.
April 2012 will mark the five-year anniversary of Congressional consideration of the Great Ape Protection Act without ever having a vote on any of the bills. This year, I will not be a chump. I will not donate to the campaign of any member of the House or Senate until they co-sponsor AND VOTE on the bills.
These policy considerations are underway just as the public is experiencing the Year of the Chimpanzee in popular entertainment.
Project Nim, a wonderful film about a chimpanzee who was the subject of language research in the 1970s, is on everyone’s short list for a Best Documentary nomination in the Academy Awards.
Andy Serkis, the world’s leading performance capture artist, brilliantly portrayed the leading revolutionary chimpanzee in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and should be nominated for an Oscar if there is any justice in this world.
For Earth Day 2012, Disney is releasing Chimpanzeea true story about a family of wild chimps in Africa.
2011 was a great year for books, and will be hard to top in 2012. Unsaid, a touching novel written by Neil Abramson, says so much about the agony of chimpanzees (and their caregivers) in research. Andrew Westoll’s book, The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, was a heart-wrenching true story about the rescue and rehabilitation of chimpanzees from the infamous research programs at LEMSIP.

And, on the cutting edge, Lincoln Park Zoo and Project ChimpCARE released a free iPad book for children, Chimps Should be Chimps.
With Disney, Andy Serkis, Nim, FWS, NIH, and Congress all in the news in 2012, and armed with the fantastic books from 2011, we have an historic opportunity for public education. Let's make it count for something!
2012 will be the Year of the Chimpanzee, I have no doubt. Start the year with us on Facebook.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do Bill Maher and Jon Stewart get free passes to exploit the use of chimps in advertising?

Maybe guys like Bill and Jon simply don’t know that using chimps in gratuitous efforts to promote their products actually hurts conservation education efforts. Maybe they don’t know how hard and how passionately animal welfare advocates are working to get marketers and filmmakers to stop exploiting chimps for crass commercialism. Or maybe they just don’t care.
Maybe Jon and Bill think that just because they didn’t personally interact with the apes, using the images of chimps is okay. It’s not.

According to a study conducted by Steve Ross, images putting chimps into human settings is not okay. Steve followed up on 2008 survey data showing that “the public is less likely to think that chimpanzees are endangered compared to other great apes, and that this is likely the result of media misportrayals in movies, television and advertisements.” Steve’s new research found that people “seeing images in which chimpanzees are shown in typically human settings (such as an office space) were more likely to perceive wild populations as being stable and healthy compared to those seeing chimpanzees in other contexts.”
In other words, ads like those used by Maher and Stewart hurt our ability to convince the public that chimps are endangered and need our protection.
Bill Maher recently resurrected his old ad showing three chimps wearing Santa hats and religious necklaces, to promote his movie about religion. Yeah, we get the joke, Bill. But I hear you are a board member of PETA (although PETA is less than transparent about their board members!) and, if you are, you have no excuse for not taking the PETA Great Ape Humane Pledge. Didn't anyone explain this to you when you first came out with this ad? The pledge, taken by responsible advertising and marketing firms, is very simple. It says that they will not use live great apes for advertising, entertainment, or any other purpose.
Jon Stewart, your use of a chimp in an office setting is even more enduring than Maher’s ad. For the cover of your book, Earth (The Book), you chose an image of yourself and Ricky, a circus chimp, sitting at a desk. Of course, by the time chimpanzee advocates saw the book, it was too late to do anything about it, at least for the edition that had already been printed. So hundreds of people asked you to at least have a guest who could talk about the problem of using chimps as promotional gimmicks. As far as I know, no one was asked to appear on the Daily Show.
I’ve heard from a friend who questions my objections. “I regard eliminating the exploitation of chimpanzees as a real uphill battle. I wholeheartedly support you as a courageous defender of these primates,” he writes. However, he goes on, “I fear that you may be dismissed by those whom you would like to influence if you insist that even representations of chimps in human settings never be used commercially.”
I appreciate the concern, and understand his perspective. But all of these images, coming at people for years and years, are a large part of the reason this is such an uphill fight! We’ve accepted the use of zany chimps for our entertainment, and thus we perpetuate the practices that bring these animals into our lives. The chimps in these images are trained by owners who use the same subjugation and social isolation techniques not to mention beatings and other physical abuse used by my dad and other trainers over the decades. Even if Maher and Stewart’s graphic designers used digital techniques to add the religious necklaces or put the chimps at Jon’s desk, trainers got hard cash for the use of their chimps. Directly or indirectly, by using these images, Maher and Stewart are supporting the ape exploitation industry. Just as importantly, they are setting a horrible example for all entertainers.
I love Maher and Stewart, and watch their shows whenever I can. I thought Maher’s movie, Religulous, was great. I have to admit, I found Stewart’s book less than intriguing and I wouldn’t recommend it. But regardless of whether we like these guys, or even whether we like their products, we need to let them know that their use of chimpanzees for product promotion is wrong. We expect better from them.
Bill, take down your Facebook promotion using the chimps, and take the image out of your profile album.
Jon, we’re still waiting for a guest appearance by someone (Steve Ross?) who can speak intelligently about the misportrayals of apes in advertising.
Fellow animal welfare advocates, if you want to let these men know that you disapprove of their use of chimps for product promotion, I suggest going to their Facebook pages and letting them know.
Hmm, I wonder what would be a good hashtag on Twitter… #noapesinads? #keepchimpsinthewildandoutofyourmarketingcampaign? What do you think?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today U.S. lab chimps get a life sentence, while freed chimps experience grass

December 15, 2011, is a momentous day for chimpanzees subjected to traumatic research.
At 8 am, caregivers at Save the Chimps sanctuary in Florida were making final preparations for introducing ten recently rescued lab chimpanzees to grass. After ten years of moving nearly 300 chimpanzees from a biomedical lab in New Mexico to a beautiful sanctuary home in Florida, Save the Chimps gave the last group of ten former lab chimps a gift that is an intrinsic right of chimpanzee-hood: the ability to walk out into the sunshine for a final release to an island that is all theirs.
At the same time, bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., were making final preparations for introducing the public to the next sorry chapter in federally supported research on nearly a thousand chimpanzees in steel cages. After 60 years of federally funded traumatic research on thousands and thousands of chimps (see Kathleen Conlee’s excellent history on chimpanzee research), the Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research gave the 937 federally owned or supported chimpanzees a life sentence in the research program. Little hope of parole, with nothing but a federally funded necropsy at the end of their lives.
Committee members Warner Greene, Jeffrey Kahn, and Sharon Terry brief the public on the report "Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research: Assessing the Necessity"
To be sure, the Committee's recommendations made some nice sounding statements. The National Institutes of Health should limit the use of chimpanzees to studies that meet certain criteria. (See Barbara King’s NPR blog for a discussion on those criteria.) But listen closely to what the committee members only hinted at during the briefing. All the current facilities are fine. They could not cite research that did not meet the criteria. The feds have to keep chimps for the future, for some unseen and unexpected potential need. NOTHING CHANGES for the chimps in the research programs. (Oh, okay, NIH concedes a temporary moratorium, while the furor dies down.)
Many animal welfare advocacy groups, who have spent five years promoting a bill - the Great Ape Protection Act - that has never been put up for a vote, and doesn’t appear to be on the congressional agenda in the future, will present this report as a positive step forward. They have to do that to keep their supporters hopeful and involved. But I don’t see it that way. Surprising enough, I agree with one of the leaders of the pro-research industry. As James Gorman, NY Times, reports:
But Dr. Thomas Rowell, director of the New Iberia Research Center in New Iberia, La. — which houses 471 chimpanzees, more than any other center in the country — also said he was “quite pleased” with the report. He said, “It just confirms what we’ve been saying all along in regard to the chimpanzee model for advancing public health research.”
Save the Chimps founder Carole Noon had a dream of a new life for the chimpanzees who were living their nightmares in solitary confinement at the Coulston Foundation compound. Her dream is now reality.
I desperately hope I'm wrong, but it appears to me that the 937 chimpanzees owned or supported by the federal government have only a tiny chance for daydreams. Their nightmares are their reality. Perhaps forever.

P.S. As I listened to the committee briefing, I was especially intrigued by one of their "general conclusions." The report states that: "application of the committee's criteria would provide a framework to assess scientific necessity to guide the future use of chimpanzees in biomedical, comparative genomics, and behavioral research." The future use. So I asked a question about it. This is a transcript of the exchange:

Dawn – “I’d like to have some clarity, please, on what you consider future research. As you know, while you were considering this, the NIH in September approved a $19 million grant to put the Alamogordo chimps back into Southwestern’s program. As I understand, $471 thousand was supposed to cover FY11, and the additional funds are for the next four years, including a public relations campaign, education campaign, and advertisements for the use of chimps for research. Would you consider that $19 million grant future research or current research not under the purview of the recommendations?”
Jeffrey Kahn – “The nice thing for us is that we don’t need to answer that question the way that you asked it. We have crafted recommendations that can be applied to ongoing research as well as any future research that may be proposed. So we would encourage the NIH, when they make their announcement about the recommendations and what they choose to implement, to apply the criteria to the question that you asked. It was outside of our purview to answer the question about whether any particular project would be (unintelligible).”
Dawn – “Oh, I just thought that since you did do case studies about particular projects that you might look at the project that was the impetus for the entire exercise.”
Jeffrey Kahn – “We looked at areas of research but we did not look at any particular project. Thanks for your question.”
- End of exchange -
Please note, the committee’s PowerPoint slides reported on nine case studies: on Monocolonal Antibodies, development of mAbs; Monocolonal Antibodies, safety testing of mAbs; Therepeutic HCV Vaccine; Prophylactic HCV Vaccine; Comparative Genomics (FOXP2); Joint Attention Cognition; Respiratory Syncytial Virus; HCV Antiviral Drugs; and Altruism.
After the briefing, the NIH director evidently told the New York Times that, for now, the Alamogordo chimpanzees will remain where they are.

UPDATE, 12/21/2011: Am I being too cynical about this? Should I trust NIH more than I do? I like the Jane Goodall Institute's approach, and I hope they are right. They are certainly right in calling for transparency.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feds pay for chimp research industry’s PR campaign

How much longer will the National Institutes of Health get away with it? Will Congress, or the White House, ever rein in this out-of-control agency?
The latest outrage can be seen in a funding proposal from Texas Biomedical Research Institute, aka Southwest National Primate Research Center, approved by the NIH. (See this editorial, NIH Intent on Cruel, Worthless Chimp Tests, by the Albuquerque Journal.) Not only did NIH agree to pay SNPRC $19 million to bring old and tired chimpanzees back into research, despite telling the public that they would not do that until they considered recommendations (not yet issued) from an advisory committee, but they are also paying for the chimp research industry’s public relations campaign!

Text from Southwestern's grant application lays out a PR program funded by taxpayers' dollars. NIH approved the proposal.
 As Marc Bekoff points out in a great blog post, Chimps in Research: Lies, lies, and more lies, deception at NIH is a regular occurrence. But as government budgets are being slashed, and worthwhile federal programs are being eliminated, it never occurred to me that NIH could be this cavalier with taxpayer funds.

How long will it go on? Misleading the public - lying - is unacceptable. Using scarce federal dollars for useless research, and destroying the final years of old chimpanzees in the process, is repulsive. Paying a bioinvasive research facility to conduct a PR campaign to try to slow the public’s growing disapproval of chimpanzee research is an outrageous abuse of NIH’s authority.
Since the Obama Administration is not reining in their agency, congressional leaders need to step in and stop:
·         NIH nonfeasance, particularly in the case of illegal breeding of federal chimps at New Iberia
·         NIH misfeasance, particularly in the case of using taxpayer money for the chimpanzee research industry’s PR campaign
·         NIH malfeasance, particularly in the case of misleading the public on their intentions to re-commit old chimpanzees to traumatic research
Anyone who respects science, and who thinks that the federal government’s scientific agencies should at least be held to a minimum standard of conduct, should consider these steps:
First, Congressional appropriators need to insert language into the omnibus appropriations bill to withhold funds that are supposed to go to the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in FY2012.
Second, Representative Darrell Issa needs to use his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate the rampant public contempt demonstrated by managers of the NIH chimpanzee research program.
Yes, legislators need to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (HR 1513 and SB 810), but that’s an easy face-saver. How many years are we going to wait for a hearing on this bill?
Yes, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs to fix the double standard of protection for chimpanzees, but do we really think NIH will respect an endangered species designation for captive chimpanzees?
The real threat to the health and wellbeing of chimpanzees is the National Institutes of Health, and its cozy relationship with the chimpanzee research centers. The relationship is cozy because of the research industry’s many decades of sucking at the federal teat.
But don’t worry; we’ll soon get ads telling children that cutting up chimpanzees is just lovely. Thanks to your taxpayer dollars.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Feds to send old chimps back into research, despite public disapproval?

The new DVD for the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes is coming out at an opportune moment. Caesar, I feel your anger and I know, now, why the apes followed your revolution. Humans, and most especially the scientists and caregivers charged with your welfare, betrayed you.

We may be witnessing that betrayal, now, in real life, by the scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

As documented by Brandon Keim in his article in Wired (NIH Accused of Dishonesty over Chimp Research Plans), NIH approved a grant to Texas Biomedical that would fund the re-introduction of tired, old, retired chimpanzees to active research. They did this even while they were assuring a gullible public (like me) that they would seriously listen to days of testimony, read reams of comments, and consider the recommendations of a special panel set up by the Institute of Medicine. (A panel, by the way, that was explicitedly directed to ignore the matter of ethics -- reflecting a continual failing at NIH, perhaps?)

This photo by Borderzine shows Juan, one of the chimps going back into research, hiding from people at his current Alamogordo facility. 
The IOM panel is due to issue its recommendations this month, but NIH approved Texas Biomedical's $19 million proposal in September. Did NIH always plan to ignore the panel's recommendation? Or did they know ahead of time what the recommendations would be? Or is it another stupid blunder by this error-prone agency?

This cynical move by a tone-deaf NIH has serious implications for the chimpanzees, but also for the federal government and, most especially, for the public's growing mistrust of federal science. Thinking people know that Climategate is a fraud. Solyndra was a mistake. But this deliberate betrayal of the public confidence, if the allegations are true, is an outrage. If the facts stand, I believe the people at NIH are helping to dig the ever-deeper grave for publicly funded science.

I have asked for a meeting with my congressional representative, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who was an early co-sponsor of the Great Ape Protection Act. I have asked for help from Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Daniel Inouye, and Rep. George Miller, all strong advocates for federal science. Congress, and the Obama White House, need to step in to cutoff this overreach by a federal agency running amok.

If reason, ethics, and a strong scientific consensus on stopping chimpanzee research don't sway these legislators, I will send each of them a Rise of the Planet of the Apes DVD. If I can't convince them, maybe Caesar can.

UPDATE, DEC 4: Marc Bekoff wrote Chimpanzees in Research: Lies, Lies, and More Lies, in his Psychology Today blog. (You won't be surprised to discover that I added my two cents worth in the comments section.)

My blog on Aug 11, 2011, public meeting of federal panel considering the use of chimps in research
My blog on Aug 12, 2011, public meeting of federal panel considering the use of chimps in research

UPDATE, DEC 11: The federal advisory committee will release their recommendations on using chimpanzees in research on December 15. They will have a public briefing from 11am to noon. Given NIH's confident preparations to transfer the federally-owned chimps to Texas, I am not optimistic about these recommendations.

My efforts to convince legislators to stop the transfer? Sen. Mikulski's scheduler told me that a staff member would meet with me to discuss the issue, but that hasn't happened. Recognizing that staffers are very busy now, I sent him my idea on how we can stop the chimp transfer for 2012. We'll see. I got a form letter email from Rep. Van Hollen, telling me he is a co-sponsor of the Great Ape Protection Act. (Great, but that wasn't what I was asking and, besides, he sent that exact email to me earlier, when I did ask him to co-sponsor the bill.) Silence from Senator Inouye but, to be fair, he is chair of the Appropriations Committee and has a couple trillion issues on his plate right now. (NOTE TO SELF: Start lobbying now on fiscal year 2013 appropriations withholdings.)

UPDATE, Dec 13: I had the opportunity to discuss the federal chimpanzee research program with Senator Mikulski's staff today. I was very impressed with staff awareness of the issues, insightful questions, and thoughtful listening. I am confident that Senator Mikulski will receive a comprehensive and objective briefing, and I'm sure they will continue to follow NIH's actions affecting the fate of the Alamogordo chimpanzees.

UPDATE, Dec 15: Following the release of the Institute of Medicine Report that Assessess the Necessity of chimpanzees in research, the New York Times is reporting: "Dr. Collins confirmed that for now, the Alamogordo chimps would stay where they are."

(Amusing note: During the Q&A session at today's public briefing, I asked the committee chairman whether the Alamogordo chimp grant was covered by the report's reference to "new or renewed grants," and the chair responded that "we don't need to answer your question in the way that you asked." Well, harumph to you, too, sir.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tell FWS to protect U.S. captive chimpanzees!

On August 31, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that they were initiating a status review to determine whether they should reclassify all captive chimpanzees from threatened to endangered, under the Endangered Species Act. Giving captive chimpanzees the same status as their wild cousins will get them out of research laboratories and into sanctuaries.
Hundreds of people submitted comments, but I didn’t. I am not an expert on chimpanzees, after all. I am only a chimp trainer’s daughter. But I changed my mind. I have the same right as anyone to state my views on the issue. Tonight I submitted my comments:  It is time for a consistent endangered species designation for chimpanzees. [Note, I have linked to an updated document that adds a clarification on the 1950s chimpanzee facility and replaces a photo on page 17.]

My father with the Detroit Zoo chimpanzees
My connections with the chimpanzees at the Detroit Zoo, from my birth in 1952 to 1964 (when the zoo fired dad for throwing a chimpanzee against the wall), were a source of awe and wonder. My father, Arthur H. Brown, Jr., killed himself in 1967, but I believe that if he were alive today he would be writing these words:

Chimpanzees, whether captive or wild, deserve our respect and protection. Their habitat – forest, exhibit, laboratory, Hollywood compound, or sanctuary – does not alter the fact that all chimpanzees are endangered.
The comments I submitted tonight are a look back at the Detroit Zoo chimpanzee program, with all of its implications. Some may ask why we need to rehash the past when deciding the way forward. I think it is important to know the context for the some of the public’s attitudes about chimpanzees, and I hope some history can help inform today’s decision makers ‒ many of whom never experienced the chimp shows of an earlier era.
Even before the FWS started their review, the National Institutes of Health asked the Institute of Medicine to conduct an “in-depth analysis to reassess the scientific need for the continued use of chimpanzees to accelerate biomedical discoveries.” We expect IOM’s analysis shortly, but, given NIH’s long record of promoting the use of primates in research, I am not optimistic that they will recommend an immediate end to research with chimpanzees.
Given the Department of Interior’s long record of protecting endangered species, however, I am very hopeful that the Fish and Wildlife Service will finally correct what was a horrid mistake in the past designation of chimpanzee status. The agency can eliminate the double standard and grant captive chimpanzees the same status and protections that we give chimpanzees in the wild.
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.
Join me, and the hundreds of others who are making their views known. Tell FWS to protect U.S. captive chimpanzees! To submit comments on FWS-R9-ES-2010-0086, go to this comment form.
My original post on the FWS rule is "Obama Administration asks: Should we continue double standards giving U.S. captive chimps less protection."

Here is the original document I submitted on the Fish and Wildlife Service chimpanzee status rule.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Family, friends, and fellow ape advocates are reasons to be thankful

I am thankful whenever I see beauty, experience grace, observe justice, taste goodness, or hear love. But even more than all of that, I am thankful…

...that Patti Ragan's soft spoken determination and compassion led her to use her own money to build the Center for Great Apes -- a home for chimpanzees and orangutans, and an inspiration to thousands of people

…for Richard Zimmerman’s resolute determination to rescue orangutans and educate Americans with his sensational Orangutan Outreach

...that I knew the Detroit Zoo chimps, and that all U.S. zoo chimp shows are closed forever
…that Shawn Thompson wrote his blog, Intimate Ape, and gave me the motivation to tell my story as Chimp Trainer’s Daughter

…that Liliana Bachelder is the kind of loyal friend who gives her unwavering support for my decisions, helped me through divorce court, and is always available for a Johnny Depp movie

…for the reappearance in my life of old Sing Out Detroit / Up With People classmates and friends: for Jeff Peterson’s droll and insightful wit; for Jennifer Kundak’s dedication to libraries, fair trade, and Ringo; for Susie Bognaski’s gentle compassion for people and animals; for Carla Wagner Campbell’s friendship that picked up right where we left off in 1970; for Freddy Dillard’s smart and fun Sunday news; and for De O’Brien’s understanding

…that Alexis Johnson shares her unique and delightful observations of life’s inanities

…that Nancy DeGrazia LoCascio is a beautiful living reminder that a daughter can inherit the goodness embodied by a father’s life

…for Dan DeGrazia’s lifelong affinity for altruistic adventure

…for Melanie Bond’s insightful questions and inspirational dedication to great apes

…that Cheryl Kaikkonen is such a kind and loving cousin that she takes the rap for spilling the beans about Santa Claus, and that Diane O’Leary is calmly determined to maintain and strengthen family connections

...that Jen Feuerstein is absolutely correct in all of her observations about politics, chimpanzees, and life in general

...that Miriam linked early to my blog from her blog, Der Hund der Philosophin, introducing me to bloggers' etiquette even though we write in different languages  

…that Laura Bonar (Animal Protection of New Mexico) and Jennifer Ball (Humane Society of the U.S.) turn their love for animals into action by advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves

…that Bobby is back in my life

…for David Kennedy’s nonjudgmental approach to life that lets him maintain friendships with both my first ex-husband and me (how amazing is that?!)

…that Tina Gilbert-Schenck inspires me every day with her strength and spirit

…that Tom Heitz uses his strong moral compass in taking care of Yerkes’ chimpanzees

...that Anne Sundermann is just about the nicest rescuer of dogs, rivers, and badly written technical reports you'll ever want to meet

...for Paul Murphy, and The Bartlett Society, for keeping zoo history alive and accessible

…for fellow ape lovers (including Diane Robertson Beatty, Colleen Tyler Reed, Fran Boland, Gary Simpson, Beth Levine, and Theresa Williams), who never fail to lift my spirits with their FB observations on (human and ape) life

…that Holly Draluck recognized her own life experiences when she looked into the eyes of an orphaned orangutan, and created Missing Orangutan Mothers (M.O.M.), observed by more zoos every year

…that Liz Ardito is the kind of friend (even though she liked Paul and I liked John) who will give me her honest opinion about everything from Summer Blonde hair color in 1964 to PTSD today

…for ape caregivers like Terri Hunnicutt, who use practical skills and expertise to transform tragedy into promise for so many apes

…for Max Block’s unbelievable knowledge about every gorilla in U.S. zoos, for the entrepreneurship and determination of young blogger Brandon Wood (Make a Chimp Smile), and for the hope for the future that they are

…that Michelle Desilets evidently has a highly tuned bullshit detector, and that she won't give up on Fiver Fridays for the Orangutan Land Trust

…that Steve Ross gives me his plain-spoken and expert perspective on any chimpanzee care issue that I ask him about, and directs ChimpCARE as an honest broker for chimp welfare

…that Judith Green understands that Caesar is home

…that Philip and Roberta Herman use their talent to produce delightful ape art to benefit sanctuaries

…for a good job working with dedicated colleagues, and for the honor of being a federal employee

…for the cats in my life who don’t let me forget that their ancestors were once worshipped as gods

…for 11 years with a terrible terrier who fills every day with excitement and unconditional love

...for the luck to be living in this time, and this place

... and that more than 10,000 visits to this blog have given me an incredible opportunity to share my memories and my opinions, for which I am and will remain forever thankful.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

These pitiful zoo shows are why chimpanzees had to die???

It finally happened. Another chimp trainer’s daughter found my blog and sent me an email last week. Her father trained chimpanzees at the Detroit Zoo starting in the mid-1960s, after my dad was fired (so I don’t think they knew each other). But she and I share similar memories about our times at the chimp show.

The Detroit Zoo chimp show often
featured chimps riding ponies.
 “I recall going back stage, at probably age 5 or 6 years of age holding one (baby) chimp, in fact to this day, 40 years later, remembering his name being ‘Sparky.’ I will never forget his leathery little palms, as you mentioned,” she writes. “Dad was also in the show, interacting with the chimpanzees on ponies, going round and round this stage. He would race around the stage, in motorized go-carts, racing with the chimps. The chimps were dressed up, cowboy hat, pants, and shirt.”

That was almost exactly as I remember it, more than 50 years ago. It was wonderful, magical.

Except that it wasn’t.

I recently found carotiger’s YouTube montage of video clips from the Detroit Zoo chimp show over the years. 

I watch it, and my stomach turns. Did we really think a chimp spinning head over heels, over and over and over again, was magical? The only thing magical was that the poor animal didn’t regurgitate all over himself and the others. Did we really think it was wonderful to see a baby chimpanzee scamper in panic when he fails to make the proper leap from horseback? Watching that video, and for days afterward, I am heartsick when I remember my young joy at the show.

These shows are the reason that the Detroit Zoo, and several other zoos, took baby chimpanzees from the wild?? This exploitation is the reason that chimpanzee hunters killed mother chimps, and the males chimps who were protecting them?? This is the reason why the Detroit Zoo, from 1934 to 1983, churned through almost a hundred chimpanzees, dumping them god knows where for the remaining 40 years of their lives (if they lived out their full lives) after the zoo used them for the 4 or 6 or maybe 8 years that they were malleable enough to obey chimptrainers like my dad?????

Damn it.

There is a big difference in today’s chimp entertainment, of course. Nowadays, most people see their “show chimpanzees” in television commercials. We don’t see the brutal training sessions. The wonder of video allows producers to cut out the rebellious real-life chimp behavior or fear grimaces, and only shows 30 seconds of zany “monkeys” capering in business suits and endorsing a product of a multinational corporation. (No, I won’t link to the pathetic Super Bowl ads that continue to exploit chimpanzees.)

Fortunately, though, tomorrow’s chimp entertainer has just arrived. Instead of watching chimps being forced to act like humans, we have a fantastically talented man acting like a chimp who begins to act like a human!

Andy Serkis uses CGI to become Caesar, the lab chimpanzee
who leads a revolution.
If you haven’t yet seen the 2011 movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or even if you have, you are in for a treat. On December 13, the movie makes its North American debut on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download. Using computer generated imagery (CGI), actor Andy Serkis and colleagues are apes. Audio experts gathered the sound of chimpanzees from Chimp Haven, a sanctuary providing lifetime care for chimpanzees who have been retired from medical research. (Which seems almost karma-like, doesn’t it? Real retired lab chimps provide the sound for a fictional lab chimp who leads a revolt against his lab. Y) The combination of technology and talent has created such a convincing “chimp” that people ended up on my blog post How real is Rise of the Planet of the Apes? after searching the term “is the chimp in Rise of the Planet of the Apes real?”

Aside from enjoying the story how can a chimp lover not root for Caesar? ‒ I revel in the concept of CGI. Humans as chimps (with the help of computers) is so much more entertaining than chimps as humans.

Tomorrow’s CGI chimpanzee is a fantastic entertainer. And yet, we can't forget what is happening today. We still must worry about the tomorrows of the 22 U.S. chimpanzees who are subjected to yesterday’s obsolete marketing mindsets.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chimps have helped us smile

Chimps have helped us smile through the years. It's time for us to return the favor, don't you think?

(Note: I chose the song "Smile," as recorded by Il Volo, for the video.
The young Italian tenors of Il Volo are terrific.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why did Terry Thompson do it?

This is a time to mourn the dozens of animals killed in the panic at Zanesville, Ohio, after animal farm owner Terry Thompson released all of his animals and then killed himself. The death of so many animals is beyond horrible… The staggering carnage borders on unspeakable.
I trust the animal welfare community and, indeed, all of the good citizens of Ohio, to rise to the occasion and demand reasonable laws and, until new laws are enacted, enforcement of their supremely insufficient regulations. I wish I could say that I trusted Governor John Kasich to act responsibly, but I am pessimistic. I hope he proves that my pessimism is misplaced.
My heart goes out to the law enforcement officers who had to shoot the animals.
But regular readers of my blog will know where my thoughts are directed… What was in Terry Thompson’s mind when he freed his animals before shooting himself? Was he filled with hatred for the community, and took his revenge by setting his animals free to terrorize people he knew? Or did he irrationally, bizarrely, want his animals to feel the freedom that he, as an ex-prisoner, had lost?
It is being reported that Thompson was tens of thousands of dollars in debt, which may help explain his final reason for suicide. But that doesn't even begin to explain why he released his animals. And if I’ve learned anything this year, searching for the reasons for the suicides in my family, it’s that there is usually more than meets the eye.
I always thought that dad killed himself because he was a little crazy but, over the past couple of months, I’ve discovered a more complicated man. I thought my brother shot himself because he saw his life going into a dead-end situation like dad’s, but I’ve discovered a much more troubled life. I didn’t know the reason for a young cousin’s suicide with a gun, and I was shocked to find out that two of my great grandparents killed themselves. It is so hard to understand the wasted lives, the painful results of suicide.
Will this suicide, this man, this awful situation, help us understand the mindsets of people who would collect dangerous animals as if they were toys? Or will we shake our heads and walk away, confused, with no answers to another inexplicable - and particularly vile - suicide?

Please click here to help ban private ownership of exotic animals in Ohio. There is no reason to allow private ownership, unless you want to protect the rights of suicidal ex-cons to terrorize their neighbors.

Update 10/21/11: So many people are angry because the animals were shot instead of tranquilized, and I understand that anger. But this morning a woman with many years of experience with captive animals explained to me why they had to make the tough decision:

"Darting animals is an art, even when it's an experienced zoo vet darting a caged animal. Many people don't understand that animals don't drop in their tracks when darted, even if the drug is fully injected. It can take 20 minutes or more for the drug to take full effect. Sometimes the dart doesn't even go off. Sometimes the animal is so full of adrenaline that the drug will not take effect. Drugs are calculated based on weight - too much is fatal, not enough is useless. How do you get a good weight on an unknown animal hiding in the bushes? The sheriff deputies had no choice. What's sad is that these animals were not recognized as a public safety hazard from the day they arrived in that compound."

Update 10/22/11: I happened to be driving from Maryland to Illinois the weekend after the massacre, and Zanesville was on the way. I pulled off the road, just to silently pay my respects to the 50 animals who died because of one man's desperation. And because of inadequate laws to protect the animals who are forced to rely on sometimes unstable people.

Update 12/10/11: This article by Sue Manning at Associated Press, Economy has wildlife rescue on endangered species list, wonders whether the financial challenges facing sanctuaries may have driven Thompson over the edge.

Update 1/10/12: A Tighter Leash on Exotic Pets, by Sarah Maslin Nir at the New York Times, is a good summary of how governments and animal welfare groups are working for stronger laws to protect people and the animals. Maybe some good will come out of this tragic event, after all.

On January 18, the Zanesville Time-Recorder reported on the final police investigation report. Witnesses suggest that Thompson was distraught about his upcoming house arrest, and was overwhelmed with the care of the animals. The paper suggests that the release may have been pre-mediated.

Update 2/5/12: Ohio State Senator Troy Balderson introduced legislation to ban new ownership of exotic pets in Ohio.

Update 4/30/12: Ohio still hasn't passed the legislation. In the meantime, Marion Thompson is about to get back the five surviving animals

Update 12/21/12: Ohioans now are protected by a reasonable law, as reported in the Plain Dealer: Ohio law banning ownership of dangerous wild animals survives challenge in federal court.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Where do research and corporate greed intersect?

I believe in science. I rely on good science to explain the intricacies of life and the wonders of this world and the universe beyond. But believing in science, and giving free rein to researchers, are two different things. Just because a person dons the mantle of science, it doesn’t mean that his opinion is necessarily objective. For too long, I think, the research industry that uses chimpanzees and other primates has considered itself beyond the reach of public accountability.
A couple of days ago I asked a question: should Yerkes Primate Center retire Wenka, a 57-year-old chimpanzee who has been in research her entire life? Should Yerkes send her to a sanctuary so “she may really finally have a chance to be a chimpanzee before she leaves this earth,” as Roberta Herman said in her comments to the blog.
In another incisive comment, Julie Robertson pointed out that in 2007, “Yerkes received a $10 million grant from the National Institute of Aging for a five year study comparing 400 human women, 25 chimpanzees, and other primates. Yerkes has acknowledged that chimpanzees do not get Alzheimer’s disease or MCI (mild cognitive impairment),” she says, “so why use chimpanzees in this study at all?”
“Perhaps a $10 million grant is the incentive,” Julie suggested.
Before people reject Julie’s suggestion out of hand, we need to consider the influence of money on research.
The National Primate Research Centers have more than 26,000 animals representing more than 20 species of nonhuman primates. They have almost a thousand chimpanzees. I can’t even imagine how much money is involved here, money from companies desperate for the research results that will get their product through regulatory reviews, and money from federal agencies that have a long (and erroneous) history of promoting chimpanzees for research for whatever ails you.
Last March I wrote a blog about chimps “curing the common cold and bringing human fetuses to term.” I was, and remain, enthralled by a 1967 book written by a primatologist, Vernon Reynolds. Please excuse me for repeating a quote from his book:
“There may well be as many apes in research laboratories in America, England, and Russia as there are in captivity in zoos. It is of course inevitable that this should be so. Most of the laboratory apes are chimpanzees… I list a few of the diseases in which research is being helped by apes: malaria, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, common cold, syphilis, whooping cough, heart disease, and cancer. In addition, one of the newest and potentially greatest uses of ape subjects is in the field of organ transplantation. Already chimpanzee kidneys have been used to replace a diseased human kidney, though as yet this technique is in its infancy and has not had any long-term successes. This is a rapidly expanding medical field, however, and it is reasonable prophecy that, by the end of this century, there will be many people alive only by virtue of the chimpanzee kidneys and hearts within their bodies; or people who have regained their sight by the grafting of chimpanzee corneas into their eyes. Chimpanzees may even be used to bring to term an implanted human fetus.”
Just substitute today’s diseases, and you will have the stated justification for using chimpanzees in research today.
The federal Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research will issue a public report by the end of the calendar year, stating their recommendations about the use of chimpanzees in research. There is stalled legislation in Congress that would stop funding of research on chimpanzees. We haven’t heard much from the primate research industry, and from the companies that pay them for the use of their animals. That silence is striking.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Corporate greed in advertising and research

Scientific American has an excellent article this week, “Chimpanzees should not be used in TV or movies.” Science NOW writes that "cute TV chimps may harm their wild brethren." Reading these articles, I couldn’t help but wonder why marketers still use chimps, even when they have been told that their exploitation hurts chimpanzee welfare and conservation.
I’ve also been wondering why researchers still use chimpanzees, when they know the chimps suffer.
I think I may have discovered a link. Could it be that corporate profits and greed in the entertainment industry, the advertising industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the research industry are more important than the lives of these animals?
I know, it’s a stupid question. After all, we have so much evidence showing the compassionate side of corporations lately.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ex-Yerkes employees tell me about Wenka

Within hours of writing today’s blog about Wenka, I heard from three people who are actively involved in chimpanzee care and who have worked at Yerkes National Primate Research Center. All three people have personal experience with Wenka, and all expressed their attachment to her, “a lovely chimpanzee.”
Their emails reinforce my original contention, that deciding what is best for Wenka keep her at Yerkes or move her to a sanctuary is not easily decided. But the weight of their combined opinions may come down to a different conclusion than I had. I’ll let you be the judge, so I want to share what they told me. (All asked to be kept anonymous, so I will refer to them as Person A, Person B, and Person C.)
Person A confirmed what I understood about the nature of research for the aging study.
“The vast majority of the ‘aging study’ that she and other chimps are on is non-invasive in nature. I am pretty confident that this is still the case for Wenka,” A explained. “In other words, she may get behavioral observations or non-invasive samples taken and, ultimately, they are very interested in scanning her brain when she passes. I just don't think anyone should get the false impression of daily liver punches or anesthesia events.” [Knocking the chimpanzee out, and taking samples of the chimp’s liver tissue, are “normal” practices for invasive research. This is not happening to Wenka.]
Distressingly, Person A disabused me of my notion about Wenka’s comfort at Yerkes. A’s understanding of conditions there, if still true, really bothers me. “You suggested she should get more nesting materials. The chimps at the main center basically get NO nesting materials... It's been that way for a long time.” No nesting materials no straw, no sheets or blankets, not even a lousy discarded t-shirt to cuddle with reminds me of the sterile conditions for the Detroit Zoo’s entertainment chimpanzees back in the 1950s and 60s. I thought we had progressed since then!
“I applaud your rational assessment of the situation,” A continues writing, unaware of how my blood is now boiling past the point of earlier rationality. “I wish more people would think like this and not simply react to what seems to be an unfair situation. There are, as you mention, practical considerations to layer upon the ethical ones.”
“I also want to point out that PETA and GARP are just two groups that have pushed for these retirements; more mainstream groups like HSUS have done so as well.”
Person A thinks, as I do, that we need to give more thought to what happens if Yerkes did decide to relinquish Wenka and other elderly chimps.
“Who pays for their transport and who pays for their lifetime care? It's easy to say that Yerkes should, but history shows that this is somewhat unlikely to happen, given that we are talking about disbursement of public funds,” according to Person A. “Also, we should consider how right it is to transport a 57-year old chimp, as that comes with its own health risks.”
Now the next email… The New England Anti-Vivisection Society posted Person B’s moving account of time spent with Wenka.
“I believe Wenka should be retired to Chimp Haven [a sanctuary in Louisiana] and housed near or with other chimps she knew,” Person B writes, explaining “all of the Yerkes' retirees are there.”
“And I believe National Institutes of Health should generously fund it,” Person B writes.
“I do not believe in the necessity of this aging project she and others like her have been involved with,” Person B says. “How is it okay to perpetuate violence and suffering in the world, no matter the species? But here we have a species sacrificing another endangered species to continue to perpetuate their own myth that they can somehow eradicate their own suffering and death. Instead we make more misery.”
Person C, on the other hand, is more willing to cut Yerkes some slack.
“Think about it this way: Wenka is 57 years old and lived a hell of a life and she’s still kicking, so they have to be doing something right.”
Person C thinks that a lot has changed at Yerkes over the past couple of years, and that things aren’t as bad as they once were. Still, Person C sees problems. “In my opinion, for the most part they do what they can, but they suffer from the same problems that zoos do. Limited space and money…”
So, what’s the verdict from these people who have known Wenka, and who know about chimpanzee care?
Person A: “I, too, am not firmly in one camp or the other on this, but I simply wish a better end of life for Wenka. She doesn't have much longer now and I've seen some great things happen to some old chimps at places like Chimp Haven.”
Person B: “I believe Wenka would be happy at Chimp Haven if she could be near others she knew.”
Person C: “I just want the best for the chimps and, honestly, I can't tell you what that is...”

UPDATE, Dec 15 2011: J.B. Mulcahy, at Chimp Sanctuary Northwest, wrote an eye opening blog post on so-called behavioral research at Yerkes. His post, A Necessary Evil?, explains how chimps in behavioral research undergo traumatic medical procedures, something I didn't know. Now I do know this: we have to end all chimpanzee research and get those chimps under the care of people with compassion. Now.

Who is right about Wenka? PETA or Yerkes?

Life is complicated. And I’m not finding that it gets any easier as I get older. (What happened to that “wiser” stuff, by the way? When does that come in?) As I edge ever closer to 60 years old, I find that gray is more prominent in my life – in my hair (45 years of hair dye is enough, thanks), and in-between the black and white answers I’ve wanted to believe in. I’ve recently been struggling with an issue that would appear to have a clear answer, but may not.
Wenka is 57-year-old chimpanzee at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. She was born at Yerkes and, except for a brief stint as someone’s pet, Wenka has always been at Yerkes. Although the behavioral research programs there don’t involve the nasty life-sapping procedures of bioinvasive medical research, life hasn’t been easy for her. She was used as a breeder, and all of her babies were pulled from her, which is devastating to a chimpanzee, much as it is for a human. I won’t go into all of her troubles, although they are substantial, as Project R&R (Release & Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories) explains in Wenka’s Story.
Recently, a group called Georgia Animal Rights and Protection has been protesting in front of Emory’s Yerkes Center, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitutional’s article No Retirement in Sight for Aging Research Chimpanzee, trying to convince Yerkes to send Wenka to a sanctuary. PETA also posted a Plea to Release the Oldest Lab Chimpanzee.
I polled my friends on what they thought should happen, and every single one of them said that Yerkes should send Wenka to a sanctuary. I’m not so sure I agree. I am 1000 percent for sanctuaries, and it should be easy to say yes, get her out of that research facility, but…
I hate the thought of Wenka living behind bars. I wish all chimpanzees, all great apes, all primates, all animals could live in their natural habitats, or at least in situations that come closer to mimicking their habitats. But, given that sanctuaries are under such financial pressures (donations decrease during economic downturns), I wonder if we should start thinking less about where behavioral research chimps live and more about how they live.
I am not (yet) convinced that a sanctuary is the only option for Wenka, but I don’t think that the situation should remain unchanged. I think Yerkes needs to do three things:
  1. Ensure that Wenka’s involvement in research is up to her, and that she enjoys it. A Yerkes spokesperson says she is still a subject in an “aging” study. It seems to me that a chimpanzee who has had all of her babies taken away and has been subject to who knows how many research projects and prodding is not a real good model for studying human aging problems, but maybe they are looking at how to care for an aging chimp who lived in a research facility her whole life. Regardless, researchers can design cognitive activities to enrich Wenka’s days, and they should.
  2. Pamper the older chimpanzees. I understand that the chimpanzees at Yerkes have unlimited access to the outdoors, 24/7, unless the weather is bad, and that’s a good thing. But we older folks need more pampering. Chimpanzees who have given their lives to research deserve it. Give Wenka fewer biscuits (known as “monkey chow”) and more fresh produce. Give her more nesting materials. (The care technicians will just have to spend a little more time cleaning. Big deal.) Find those little ways to make her daily life better.
  3. Break new ground. Yerkes National Primate Research Center has 96 chimpanzees. Those chimps, and the other 900 living in research facilities across the U.S., will need a lot more care as they age. Frankly, given the lack of transparency at these facilities, the public doesn’t trust them to provide the special care and attention needed by elderly chimpanzees. Work with the primate advocacy community and with sanctuary experts to set up a voluntary ‒ and transparent! ‒ system to verify that compassionate care is Yerkes’ top priority for elderly chimpanzees.
Wenka has a special place in America’s history with research chimpanzees. Her name is a play on the combination of the names of her parents, Web and Banka, who were among the first 100 chimpanzees of the first experimental breeding colony in the United States. She now lives with two other old ladies. All three chimpanzee ladies deserve our gratitude. On behalf of old broads everywhere, human and chimp, I call on Yerkes to let us know how they will repay Wenka and the others for their service.
Trusting Yerkes to improve their care for elderly chimpanzees is not a perfect solution. I admit, it’s kind of a gray response to an issue that is not strictly black or white (as I consider bioinvasive research to be). But I’m afraid it’s the best we can do until we get laws changed in this country, and end government funding for chimpanzee research. Until that day comes, our focus needs to be on making Wenka’s last years her best years.
One final thought: If Yerkes won’t consider the changes I’ve suggested, or propose their own solutions, then it appears that PETA and Georgia Animal Rights and Protection may have the right idea after all. If there's one thing I've learned in my six decades, it is not to trust institutions that don't listen to reason.

Update, 4:15 pm 10/9/11: It didn't take long for me to hear from Yerkes ex-employees. Read their responses here.