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 careerbuilder.com 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.)