Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wanted: Info about Tulane chimpanzee research in 1964

Thousands of chimpanzees have been used in bioinvasive medical research over the decades. It was a punch in the gut when I found out that the Detroit Zoo sent some of their chimpanzees into research programs. Most disheartening is the fate of Bobby, Chico, and Sammy. The Detroit Zoo sold them to “Tulane” on 7 October 1964. 
It is not clear which Tulane facility Detroit sent them to.
Earlier in 1964, Dr. Keith Reemtsma, a surgeon at Tulane’s School of Medicine, was harvesting chimpanzee kidneys to transplant into humans. Reemtsma tried six chimp-human kidney transplants from November 1963 to April 1964, all failures. Adverse public (and professional) reaction erupted after another surgeon attempted a chimpanzee-human heart transplant, and some transplant experimentation seemed to go underground. In his thorough examination of the history of transplant surgery , author Tony Stark (Knife to the Heart: The Story of Transplant Surgery), quotes Reemtsma in 1964:
“We would emphasize… that we regard this work as wholly experimental. Under the circumstances only the most stringent precautions will make such work justified and justifiable.”
Secrecy was one such precaution, Stark points out.
The three Detroit Zoo chimpanzees were sent to Tulane after the six publicly acknowledged kidney transplant experiments. I don’t know if the medical school used Bobby, Chico, and Sammy for experiments. Another option may be that they could have been among the freshman class of primates used for research by the Tulane National Primate Research Center, which was just setting up operations in 1964.
I’ve asked TNPRC if they have any historical records about these three chimpanzees, and I’ll report here if they reply. In the meantime, I am honored that chimpanzee experts and advocates read this blog. Please contact me at if you have any information about “Tulane” chimpanzee research in 1964 or 1965.
Bobby, Chico, and Sammy entertained Detroit Zoo visitors for seven years, while my dad was a chimp trainer. These chimpanzees likely gave their lives as experimental projects. They deserve more than anonymous deaths.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

More reason to boycott businesses that use apes in their ads

Advertisers have known for a long, long time that anthropomorphic chimpanzees – chimps made to resemble humans – sell. This photo of Jo Mendi I, taken in November 1932, was devised to encourage people to contribute to the Community Fund, an effort to provide much needed help to people during the Great Depression. The Detroit Zoo, who used Jo for these worthwhile campaigns, suggested a caption for the Detroit News: “Jo Mendi signs a check to do his bit for the Community Fund drive and turns it over to Mr. Wacks. Joe had to borrow the money as the city has taken over all he has earned.”
William Wachs and trainer Theodore Schroeder with the Detroit Zoo's first Jo Mendi,
November 3, 1932
You know how much I abhor the old zoo practice of putting a chimpanzee into human attire, and training him for unnatural poses or entertainment. But now we have evidence of a new concern altogether. It appears that putting chimpanzees into these types of photo opportunities leaves people with two misconceptions. First, seeing Jo “play” with these two gentlemen (one of whom is his much-bitten trainer, Theodore Schneider), people are more likely to think that chimpanzees are suitable as pets. Second, when they see Jo next to a human, people are not as likely to recognize that chimpanzees are endangered in the wild.
A newly published study, Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets, found that people seeing a photograph of a chimpanzee with a human standing nearby were 35.5% more likely to consider wild populations to be stable/healthy, compared to those seeing the exact same picture without a human. Wow, that’s a lot of misconception. A 10% swing in perceptions would be substantial, 20% is big, but 35% is huge!
Wild populations are not stable, nor are they healthy. In fact, chimpanzees have been classified as endangered since 1996.
This is important, folks! Imagine, if you will, a massive television audience of a hundred million people viewing such a picture. Imagine the millions of people coming away with exactly the wrong impression of chimpanzee vulnerability in the wild. Well, you don’t have to imagine. Thanks to the use of chimpanzees in a Superbowl advertisement for, that happened this year. Despite the pleas of animal welfare advocates and conservationists, ever since 2006 has been proud of its use of chimpanzees in its Superbowl ad campaign. They are probably planning the 2012 ad now.
Advertisers seem to think that it takes genius to mimic what was essentially being done in publicity campaigns back in 1932, even before TV broadcasting in America. Actually, if we compare this picture of Jo to careerbuilder’s 2011 ad, we can see that current marketing “geniuses” are just lazy copycats. But I digress…
Maybe, with this new study, advertisers will now look at the empirical evidence of the harm done to chimpanzees by its marketing strategy, and will embark on something really creative… something that doesn’t repeat the tired – but, unfortunately effective – marketing stunt of using chimpanzees in a human setting. Maybe they will recognize that they are contributing to public misconceptions that could very well be harming chimpanzee conservation efforts.
Please take a few minutes to read the report of Specific Image Characteristics Influence Attitudes about Chimpanzee Conservation and Use as Pets, just published in Plos One. Share the article, and help spread the word: Stop using great apes in entertainment and advertising.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chimps, and their zookeepers, can't walk away

I need to step back from the blog for a while. Constantly pulling up memories can take a toll, and I need time. I want to stop reflecting on the past, and to relax instead. Now is a perfect time for that.
Even as I was putting away the photo albums, a thought struck me – hard. I have a choice to walk away if I want. The Detroit Zoo entertainment chimpanzees from the past half a century didn’t have that choice. Refusing to go on meant “retirement,” and retirement, more often than not, meant going into a small cage or steel box for the remaining 40 years of life, to be subject to the whims of the biomedical research industry.
As I was scanning some of dad’s old photos, I came across a scene taking place in the back of Detroit Zoo’s chimp show amphitheater. The main subject of the photo is a chimpanzee riding on the back of a Shetland pony, which is doing an unnatural trick on a rolling thingamajig. But as I zoomed in, I found this episode happening along the back wall of the stage.

This is one unhappy chimp, deciding not to cooperate with his trainer. Wisely, the trainer has stepped back from a confrontation with the chimpanzee. This was happening during a chimp show.

Chimpanzees in the wild do not normally attack humans. But captive chimps, forced to meet human standards as entertainers or pets, often rebel against their abnormal circumstances. Their efforts to step back, to get away from something they don’t like, are met with punishment, life on a chain, or worse. I’m willing to put good money on a bet that the rebellious chimpanzee in this photo was soon retired from the show, headed for life in a laboratory. (For more on life for chimpanzees inside U.S. labs, see Project R&R’s excellent report.)
You know who else can’t just step away? The zookeepers.
In the November 1948 Detroit Zoo newsletter, the zoo tells how they had to operate on Tiny Tim, a baby chimpanzee who was probably about a year old, for “an infected leg bone.” Dad (“Mr. Brown”), who had recently started his job at the zoo, helped keep an eye on the tot after the operation…

“At about 1:00 P.M. Dr. Appelhof wrapped ‘Tiny Tim’ in a baby blanket donated by Mr. Greenhall for the event. They returned to Tow Animal Hospital where Dr. Appelhof administered penicillin. From there ‘Tim’ was taken to the zoo where arrangements were made for Mr. Schwartz, Animal Keeper in charge of the chimpanzees, to be in attendance until midnight, and for Mr. Brown, Assistant Animal Keeper, from midnight until morning. It was not thought wise to leave ‘Timmy’ unattended while he was still under the influence of the drugs.”
One thing that hasn’t changed much over the decades is the dedication of the zookeepers. Your zoo is closed because of a blizzard? The keepers somehow make it in, to feed the animals. Your state or local government has shuttered your zoo because of a budget problem? Zookeepers take care of those animals, regardless. Through holidays, extreme weather events, and to provide special care to a hurt animal, zookeepers and sanctuary caretakers are on the job. They can’t walk away when they would prefer to be doing something else.
My advice for this summer? Go see Project Nim, read Unsaid, and hug a zookeeper. I've done all three, and it feels great!
Talk to you again in a couple of weeks.