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.

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