Saturday, March 31, 2012

Excuse my bitchiness, but I’ve just gotta say…

This is going to be one of those blog posts that ticks off just about everyone, in one way or another. I’m in that kind of a bitchy mood, and I’ve decided to pull all of my pet peeves into one big dump…
In his latest essay, Research Chimpanzees May Get a Break, Frans de Waal argues against using chimps in bioinvasive research. It was a good article. Imagine how much better it could be, how absolutely earth shattering among the primate research industry it would be, if he announced that he would stop using captive apes for HIS research. Alternatives exist to studying the behavior of chimps in unnatural captive settings. Just look at how Jane Goodall did it in the past. Or how today’s generation, led by Brian Hare, is studying apes in the Congo. At the very least, I could take de Waal more seriously if he urged his colleagues at the Yerkes Primate Research Center to let Wenka retire in peace, among her old friends at the Chimp Haven sanctuary.
I got the strangest fundraising letter from the Great Ape Trust. They want money to change into a "sanctuary," but they plan to open the facilities to the public AND apply for research grants. I don't get it. Do they want to be a sanctuary, a zoo, or a research lab? If the disorganized letter is any indication, they don't have a clue. The new name is "bonobo HOPE Great Ape Trust Sanctuary." (Officially, with USDA, it is the Iowa Primate Research Sanctuary.) I'm surprised it doesn't include "and Exposition." I’ve been hearing ominous rumors about caregivers leaving, crazy arguments between high-level leadership, and even accusations of deliberate harm inflicted on the baby bonobo. Personally, I haven’t supported the place since they bred their bonobos, because I don’t think research laboratories are proper places for apes, and I certainly don’t want to see more apes destined to spend their lives performing feats for humans. After getting this letter, I am convinced this unaccredited facility is a disaster-in-waiting for those poor bonobos ‒ until someone gets smart and puts the bonobos in an actual sanctuary. (To follow developments at Great Ape Trust, see our Bonobo Hope post.)
Gulf Breeze Zoo should be shunned for their exploitation of a baby gorilla who was deliberately inbred between half siblings. After the birth, the zoo announced that the natural mother rejected her baby. To compound their misjudgment, instead of finding an adoptive gorilla mother, zookeepers are raising the baby – and the zoo is pitching the “human caregiver” story to the press in an attempt to increase gate revenues. Respectable zoos follow breeding advice from the gorilla species survival plan, they definitely don’t inbreed, they do everything they can to keep the baby with the mother, and they find an adoptive gorilla “auntie” if the mother won’t accept the baby. And they don’t use their failures to promote their zoo. Gulf Breeze Zoo’s actions are obscene on so many levels.
Many people can express their aggravations much more poignantly than I can. One Facebook post that I agree with 2,000 percent was from the director of Orangutan Land Trust, Michelle Desilets, about the conflagration in Sumatra, where hundreds of orangutans are dying in a fire set by workers at a palm oil plantation. “A little moan from me,” Michelle writes. “I cannot bear when people reduce the tragedy of what is happening to orangutans in Tripa to the regret that ‘our children and grandchildren will not be able to see them in the wild.’ Orangutans should be allowed to exist for their own right, not to serve humans. To me, this kind of statement reeks of self-absorption...” (Go to the Facebook page, Save Tripa, to find ways that you can help save orangutans in their own right.)
And speaking of the deaths of the last remaining Sumatran orangutans… When are we ALL going to get serious about rejecting palm oil in our cookies and candy and other foods? It is clear that the farce known as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has devolved into a greenwash that would be funny if it wasn’t so pitiful. There is no enforcement, and we now know that in a country (like Indonesia) where official corruption is the rule, there is no way to make palm oil “sustainable.” Zoos that were trying to educate visitors to use products made with RSPO-certified palm oil gave it a good try. I doubt they will ever change their messages, to just say no to palm oil, since palm oil user Mars Candy is such a major business partner to a lot of them. Fortunately, consumers don’t have to listen to organizations that still chant the sustainable palm oil fantasy. We can change our buying habits, although it is probably too late for the Sumatran orangutans. (We still have to worry about the orangutans on Borneo, who are next in line for elimination.) So can we all just stop the charade? No palm oil, PERIOD. And please sign this petition, asking the Indonesian president to drop the country’s pretense of concern and actually take action to protect orangutan habitat.
Okay, that ends my bitch session for today.


  1. Embrace that bitchy mood, because this is your best blog yet! I had the very same thoughts when I read Frans de Waal’s essay; if he wants to study chimpanzee’s behavior he needs to go to the forest like Jane Goodall did. De Waal sees the writing on the wall and yet is trying to hold on to his on work, the study of imprisoned chimpanzees. Thanks for making these great points.

  2. Go for it!!! Humans are the strangest animals and meanest. I hate to admit I am one. Our Great Ape Center is doing all it can.

  3. Dawn, I have never bought the "sustainable" palm oil crap being spouted. I try my hardest to buy palm oil free products but it is very difficult. Palm oil seems to be in everything! I will keep trying though, for the sake of the remaining orangutans and all the other species in danger because of palm oil.

  4. Brian Hare studies captive bonobos and chimps in places far worse than Yerkes. You need to get your facts straight.

    Also, what do you think they do in zoos with apes? They study them and your views come off at anti-science, which is last thing we need in this world. If we do everything we can to stop learning about chimpanzees and other apes, no one will bother or care to want to save them in the wild. It is as simply as that.......

    The public knows a lot more and is better educated about chimpanzee behavior becasue of de Waal's work...Seems really lame and disingenuous to complain about the very people who are trying to improve the conditions of captive chimps.

    Not sure you really get it...

    1. Finally! Someone with inside info on Yerkes is willing to tell us what is going on behind those walls! Thank you. Okay, I understand a major research program didn’t get their funding renewed so they are moving the young chimps to the Field Station in Lawrenceville, where Frans will use them. The old chimps, I hear, will just stay at the Emory campus and die. So my questions: Which chimps have died in the last two years? Is Wenka still alive? Is it true they won’t let Wenka retire in dignity with her friends because they want to look at her brain and other body parts after she dies? If it is, how will that one poor chimpanzee’s dead brain advance the knowledge of human kind?

      Contrary to your charge, I am pro-science, but science must be humane and must have a purpose. I’m sure you will agree that not all research is “science.” For instance, research for the sake of funding is not science.

      I take your point about not complaining about people who are trying to improve the conditions of captive chimps. I tried to point out that I would see Frans as one of those people if he would use his fame and fortune to convince his Yerkes colleagues to let those SPECIFIC research chimps retire at a sanctuary. It's easy to write about compassion. It's tougher to act compassionate.

    2. And along comes an article to prove my point about useless research, conducted with federal funds, masquerading as "science." IDA's "Real Ridiculous Research" put's De Waal's study about chimpanzee yawning in the top 10 most ridiculous:

  5. Next thing you know, we'll have things called 'Dogs' that we pull around in leashes, dress up in human outfits, or teach human tricks, and think it's "ok".... Wait, that's already being done... Let's not be a specie-st here.